29 April 2006

It's not a war if the victim pre-emptively surrenders

A bunch of physicsts recently sent an open letter to President Bush warning him to not use nuclear weapons against Iran. It reminds me once again why getting my doctoral degree was one of the biggest mistakes in my life, redeemed only by the fact that the experience insulated me from ever again wanting to be part of American academia1.

The first thing to note is that the writers sent this to Bush, whose crime is apparently not saying that he will use nuclear weapons, but simply refusing to pre-emptively surrender that option. On the other hand, the writers seem to have no issue with the Iranian leadership, who are openly stating their desire to initiate a nuclear war as soon as they have the weapons. This is to me archetypical anti-Americanism, which is defined not by criticizing the USA but by blaming only the USA even when other nations involved are far more guilty of whatever is being blamed on the USA.

Nonetheless, some parts of the letter are hilarious in the mordant, “look at the over inflated egos!” kind of way that only academia can achieve.

Physicists know best about the devastating effects of the weapons they created

Uh, no. I would say that would be either the survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings, or the medical teams who examined and cared for them.

nuclear weapons in today’s arsenals have a total power of more than 200,000 times the explosive energy of the bomb that leveled Hiroshima, which caused the deaths of more than 100,000 people

And so? Big numbers, scary! But apparently the correct approach in this regard is to encourage other nations to build even more nuclear weapons, instead of making an example that would frighten others in to not building more. That’s not even mentioning the fact that every nuke dropped on Iran is one less in today’s arsenals.

The letter echoes the main objection of last fall’s physicists’ petition, stressing that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be irreversibly damaged by the use or even the threat of use of nuclear weapons by a nuclear nation against a non-nuclear one

Instead, the treay will be strengthened by watching Iran flagrantly violate the terms of it with no consequences?

In the end, I am left wondering just what warped point of view could lead to fatuous and unrealistic utterances. The only one I can come up with is that as privileged, Western academics, they simply cannot envision foreigners (such as the Iranian mullahocracy) as having true moral agency. The academics are simpl too parochial to think that some power other than the USA could possibly be driving events in the world. What a cramped, narrow view! And despite all of their diversity training.

1 Beyond to citing Julian Jaynes and Ayn Rand in my thesis, of course.

28 April 2006

Evolving online social conventions

Weblog junk is one of my hobbies. I did a guest lecture for She Who Is Perfect In All Way’s computer security class and there was one interesting bit about something I have noticed an interesting evolution over the last few months.

One of the primary efforts in combatting junk was to ban domains (not one I put much effort in to myself, but many others did). The theory was that this was a way to raise the monetary costs of the junkers by forcing them to pay for new domains on a regular basis.

Apparently it had an effect in changing junker behavior, although not actually slowing them down. What we see now is that the junkers are colonizing other people’s domains, via two avenues:

  • Hacking unsecured websites, putting content there and then using that as base
  • Using free subdomains (such as those hosted by Blogspot)

The wave of junk from Blogspot hosted domains is so great that a number of weblogs have banned the entire domain (not me, they are all currently filter with the RE “–\w+–[a–z0–9]{4}\.blogspot”). But this is just the start. Blogspot will eventually make it too hard to grab new subdomains but there are hundreds of start up and little communities out there providing this kind of specialized hosting, handing out domains for free. Based on the junk I get, there are plenty who are susceptible to automated subdomain acquisition, thereby providing an endless series of effectively free, short term domain names.

The result of this, and something I do, is ban very high level domains (I’ve banned several top level country codes and I can’t believe I am the only one). The key question is whether participation in online communities will be a common enough thing that providers will have to police themselves or face an ostracism that their potential customers won’t tolerate.

Old Media still cannot view them as real people.

Brothers Judd has a post about some local Caliphascist getting whacked by a combination of Coalition and Iraqi forces and intelligence. A couple of observations are just what I read in to it, to wit:

  • This is likely an indication that our forces read the newspapers and have broaden the definition of “trying to escape” a tad.
  • Fighting like this inside Baghdad indicates a shift to where Baghdad seems to be the last serious hold out of the Sunni faction.

While beating the Sunni dead enders is important, we must keep in mind that quite a bit of the Caliphascist effort in Iraq is foreign funded and supplied. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sunni gunboys shifted to Baghdad because it was getting too hot back home, where the local Sunni have realized continued support for the gunboys is leaving them on the station while the train is pulling out.

But Chris Durnell makes the most interesting comment (and by interesting, I mean “closest to what I wanted to write”), which is how the presumption of Old Media was that only American morale could be affected by facts on the ground. The Caliphascists were presumed to be magical villains, immune to the mundane problems that plague real world people. If you don’t think foreigners are capable of moral agency then naturally they are immune to considerations of morale.

Burning in the light

The Media Bloggers Association is getting involved on behalf of Lance Dutson, a blogger in Maine who’s being sued in connection of his serious criticism of certain local government shenanigans.

Sounds like some people with a rather cozy arrangement are burning from the disinfectant properties of blogosphere light. Gives me a warm feeling inside as well. So, for you search engines out there:

(Via Dean’s World)

27 April 2006

Time and tide

This article has a cool note at the end. Apparently the best clocks are getting so accurate that time coordination between them requires knowing the altitude of the clocks to within a few meters because the different gravity fields at different heights causes skew between the clocks.

But that won’t be enough for the expected next generation of even more accurate clocks:

That becomes tricky because gravitational theory dictates that the altitude isn’t measured relative to average sea level, but to the geoid, a hypothetical surface that approximates the shape and size of Earth. The geoid’s size fluctuates in response to, for example, ocean tides and the redistribution of water due to climate changes.

Now that is a freakily accurate clock.

26 April 2006

But nobody we know attended!

Power Line has an article about the welcome home a unit of the Tennesee National Guard received. It ends with an important question, which is why events like this receive so little attention from Old Media yet moonbats like Cindy Sheehan become almost entire industries by themselves. I am sure there is quite a bit of the standard sort of ideology involved, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is just as much a bubble effect, where the Old Media staffers are simply unaware of anything outside of their little culture box.

No more dream clothes for the Emperor

This post at Brothers Judd reminded me of how much Bush Derangement Syndrome is creating cognitive dissonance for the Modern American Left. I have definitely enjoyed responding to various leftist webloggers who go on about the Bush Administration building up the tensions with regard to Iran. Pointing out to such a person that they are backing a regime whose leaders are openly claiming to want to start a nuclear war as soon as they have the weapons makes for either sputtering denials or silence.

It’s not that it’s harder to be a decent Leftist these days. It never was possible, it’s just that it is far more obvious these days.

24 April 2006

Swimming out to meet the wave of the future

Dateline: Junkyard Blog

Michelle Malkin has a new weblog which is a video weblog. I have to be honest and say that I don’t get video weblogs (although I’d rather go video than audio, because you can also just not watch and turn the former in to the latter). There’s no denying, however, that video is the hot space for online content these days, both for weblogs and for other content areas.

I suspect that Malkin wants to get out on the front of the wave. The A-list of video weblogs has not been set yet and it certainly seems that early adopters have a big positional advantage. Beyond that, it is a common phenomenon that dominance can become self-sustaining where one is dominant because of the hot tips and contributed content, all of which flows in because one is dominant. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people will volunteer to be unpaid research assistants. It’s a great place to be if you want to be top of the heap.

I wish Malkin and her crew well — it will definitely be interesting to see from both a content and a technological point of view.

23 April 2006

Flickr of hope burns out

Bummer. I thought I was going to be able to do something cool with pictures at Flickr but it just couldn’t do what I wanted.

Flickr has this cool idea called a “badge”, which lets you display a set of images hosted on Flickr on another website. The cool part of that is that you can pull the images by tag. That means cycling pictures in and out of the badge is merely a matter of adding or removing a tag from the image on Flickr. You can pick the images by most recent or a random set. I have another website where I do a lot more with images than I do here and I thought “this would be cool, to have alternates that cycle randomly”.

I played with it on and off for a few days but in the end it just wasn’t suitable. The big things that killedit for me were

  • It puts the images in TD elements to go in a table. No choice about that, you have to put in the wrapping TABLE element yourself.
  • There is no access to attributes on the image, such as CLASS or TITLE. I could have worked around the CLASS (as the IMG element does have a distinct one) but the TITLE is always the title of the image on Flickr, which is not always suitable.
  • It won’t serve images taller than 500 pixels. I use some specialized images that are very skinny and they don’t work. Because of the application, the images have to be a precise size and I want full control over the resizing, I don’t want Flickr to decide how to munge the pixels.

Still, Flickr is cheap and useful enough to still get a positive rating from me. Here’s an example, a picture of She Who Is Perfect In All Way’s cat POset. It is almost completely anonymous, there not being a good way to trace back from the URL to anything else at Flickr.

Sounds very American to me

I normally like Dhimmi Watch but sometimes they get a bit too caught up in the heat of the moment. A case in point is this article about alledged shari’a law in Dearborn, Michigan.

When Arrwa Mogalli agreed to plunk down $1,465 for a lifetime membership with the Fitness USA chain of gyms, she did so after being promised that its Lincoln Park facility would be open only to women on certain days.


So when the Lincoln Park gym decided this month to open up part of the center to both sexes every day, the 28-year-old Dearborn resident and other area Muslims felt cheated. So far, about 200 Muslim women with Fitness USA memberships have signed a petition asking the chain to return to gender-specific days for the entire gym or to put up a divider so men and women can’t see each other while working out.

I completely fail to see the problem. I would say that this is precisely how I would expect people with non-mainstream beliefs to behave. Rather than trying to force compliance with their views, they quite properly inquired as to whether those views would be accomodated by the business. The business was free to say “no”, as these Muslim women had no right to expect such compliance. However, and this is the heart of the matter, the business said “yes, we can do that for you”. That point cannot be over emphasized. That changes the issue from ideologues demanding submission to justifiably agrieved customers demanding that a business live up to its freely given promises. The business shouldn’t be forced to comply, but if it doesn’t it should be forced to refund the membership fees.

It certainly doesn’t do anyone good to get hysterical over non-issues like this. This story not only doesn’t alarm me, but actually has a slight positive effect on my view of Muslims in America. Dhimmi Watch should stick to complaining about actual attempts at dhimmitude, not just people accomodating their different beliefs.

Rhetorical pricing

I am with the group that agrees that the current high price for petroleum is a result of a risk premium far more than any actual supply problem. What I wonder is whether the leaders of Iran in particular are encouraging this deliberately.

Clearly Iran benefits from a high price for petroleum that is not related to production costs, because that risk premium is effectively pure profit. Could the spate of war mongering quotes from the Iranian leadership actually be a cynical ploy to boost oil prices? It seems to be a win all around for the Iranians. It brings in a lot of cash. If it encourages alternate energy sources to be developed in the West, that’s much more of a problem for the Saudi Entity (a major rival for leadership of the Caliphascists) than Iran. Besides, any such development is at least a decade out before it has a major impact. And finally, the mullahs may well believe (and not without good reason) that they won’t suffer for such inflammatory rhetoric and if they do, they can dump the firebrands and put it behind them easily. It looks like a big upside with little downside, so why not?

Not your father's Army

One of the current topics in the blogosphere is the complaints by some retired generals about the handling of the invasion of Iraq. A side issue that intersects one of my interests is whether this represents a break with the tradition of civilian control of the military.

I agree that it’s a bit worrisome, but in the end it’s just a small fraction of the retired generals and their boosters are primarily from Old Media, which itself is a fading power that has managed to make itself only slightly more trusted than politicians.

More interestingly is the question of how this trend will interact with the increasingly robotic nature of American warfare.

As this century unfolds, a major trend in the American miitary will be the increasing use of robotic vehicles, everything from bomb sniffing robo-dogs to aireal combat drones to autonomous observation units. Presumably this will in turn lead to a reduced number of military personel. We are likely to solve the problem of too many chiefs and not enough Indians by building sufficient numbers of robotic “personel” to make every soldier a unit commander.

The long term effect of this may well be to make the military an ever more isolated caste in society, as its requirements for membership become greater and the need for humans decreases. We are already seeing some significant fractures in our political system from the lack of widespread military service. Will this get worse as the military is affected by growing automation as so many other occupations have? While there is much to object to in a draft, there is much to favor in having a military that is not only controlled by the citizens but to a large extent consists of those same citizens. Is there some point at which control of the military by an insular caste is a real danger to the Republic?

On the other hand, there is a different path where combat become so similar to gaming that there is a constant exchange between the gaming and military communities.

And finally, what happens when military robots filter in to the civilian market, starting with high end security firms and migrating downwards? One can see that easily being part of the trend toward enhanced reality.

Interesting times.

Metrics of Equality

Some recents posts (here, here, and here) have caused me to reminisce about some of the gender equality arguments I was involved in in my youth.

One that sticks in mind because it was so archetypical. The other person had the thesis that a marriage was unequal unless both people did exactly the same things to maintain it. I disagreed on two points:

  • A marriage is a partnership and therefore the efforts of partners should be to maximize the value of the marriage.
  • It was more imporant that the partners agreed to whatever division of labor existed than that the division were in agreement with some externally imposed standard.

I think this continues to hold up well, but I can see now that there was something deeper going on. It is another manifestation of the level problem. In the argument, both sides agreed that the partners in a marriage should be equal, the difference was what, exactly, “equal” meant.

This brings us back to the liberal / conservative divide. Liberalism has become stuck in what Micky Kaus called money liberalism. His thesis was that is was the liberals, not the conservatives, who elevated money as the sum total of human worth by reading differences in wealth as differences in human worth. I.e., that to achieve real equality it was not only necessary to have equal money but sufficient. That’s far more materialistic than any mainstream conservative belief.

More importantly to me, such a view is not only materialistic but much to particularistic. An essential part of defining “equal” is to have some set of metrics with which to measure equality. The simplest thing to do is to pick particular, explicit properties and use those as metrics. For example, how much money someone has. Such a reductionist approach is not well suited for humans and it is therefore no surprise that political ideologies rooted in such a view don’t suit humans well either.

In the original case here, concerning equality inside a marriage, we see the exact same phenomenon. The metric is the particular tasks engaged in by the spouses, not the relationship that exists between them. It is again a reductionist approach that doesn’t work with real people, as the posts cited above make clear.

In my terms the liberal view of equality is too literal and not sufficiently meta, a theme I have been deveoping over the years of writing this weblog. The echos of it are all around — the highly tactical nature of modern Democratic Party politics being a good example. It’s something that has been latent in Socialism from the start but it is only now, when the pipe dreams have been shown to be exactly that, that the latent has become the dominant.

21 April 2006

I'm OK with being Dumb if he manages to be Dumber

Best of the Web takes a Fisking rod to Greg Mitchell who blathers on about some sort of “crisis” in the federal executive. The root of it seems to be that President Bush’s poll numbers are very bad but he’s unlikely to resign and won’t be out of office until 2009. As BotW points out, it is a crisis for Old Media and the chatterati, not the nation.

On the other hand, it might well turn in to a crisis for the Congressional Republicans, who would likely face some blow back if Bush is truly as unpopular as the polls indicate. If so, I will have little sympathy for them as the conservative blogosphere has been bloviating about how to prevent that for months. It’s really a simple, two part plan:

  • Get the public to believe that Congress is cutting spending. Embracing the Pork Busters would almost certainly be enough to get the GOP through the 2006 elections in good shape.
  • Do something about illegal immigration. Any plan that doesn’t involve a strong enforcement effort is pointless.

Will the GOP do either of these? Unlikely. They’d probably rather take their chances, each one hoping he won’t be one of the ones to get mugged by the American Street and depending on the ongoing marginalization of the Democratic Party to cover their butts. It is indeed something to see both major parties living on the hope that the other party does something ever stupider.

20 April 2006

Keeping your money in enemy territory

I continue to be surprised how otherwise seemingly intelligent people can view the holding of American debt by China to be a Chinese advantage in any future conflict.

Perhaps such people are suffering from a mild case of Logo-Realism, causing them to confuse financial paper with real wealth. By taking on a lot of American debt and paper money, China in effect locates that portion of their treasury, the wealth denoted by that paper, in the USA. That would seem to be an advantage for the USA, not China.

It’s also amusing to see discussions in this regard about how much damage China could do the American economy by withholding its cheap manufacturing. Well, yes. But normally in war, one considers what both sides could do to each other. The USA could, with some moderate pain, switch its outsourced manufacturing base to a number of other nations (Philiphines, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, etc.). Where would China go for technology imports and a big export market? The ChiComs wouldn’t last in power more than 6 months if the USA simply canceled their treasury notes and blockaded the coast. It might cost us a trillion or two, but we would recover. The ChiComs would be gone, as likely would China as well, devolved into a set of fueding states racing to suck up to the USA to get preferential trade access.

But this is, of course, a piece with the standard complaints about American assertiveness, that only costs to the USA are counted, enemies presumed for some unexplained reason to be immune to the laws of economics. Just like a bad Star Trek episode and only slightly more realistic.

Have a round of fuel

While the question of whether ethanol production is a net energy gain is still open to question, there is a more interesting issue lurking under it.

Let us assume for the moment that ethanol production as a fuel make energistic sense. My bi-polar nature brings up two thoughts.

The first is the decentralization issue. It is quite possible to construct plausible models of very decentralized fuel production in an ethanol based energy economy, in a way that is simply impossible for petroleum. The process can use biotech, which enables it to be scaled down to quite small levels. It may not be household sized, but micro-brewery sized? Obviously, since they already do it. Even a moderately sized town could support a fuel ethanol distillery. Note that this capability is enhanced not only because of the scaling possible but because the inputs can (in general) be harvested locally as well.

What would such decentralization mean for the energy economy? Will locals take as kindly to massive federal intervention when it’s not targeting some distant, massive refinery in some other state but instead Joe’s facility down the road? Would the reduced internal transport of the system have any effect on the overall energy efficiency? It would seem that we would have a much more robust system, in that there would be few targets whose destruction would have a large impact on fuel availability (as opposed to now, when a few strikes on some key refineries would cause major dislocations).

The shift might also alleviate some of the fuel blend distribution problems we have now, as fuel could be produced, distributed, and consumed in a single regulatory area.

Personally, I became somewhat more favorably inclined toward fuel ethanol as I pondered this post, as this kind of decentralization seems like a big win.

The other thought I had was about taxes. Most of the value in current ethanol is the tax burden on them (thus giving us silly things like “de-natured alcohol”). If ethanol fuel production does tend toward decentralization, the tax situation could become quite interesting. If people think taxes on gasoline are high, they will be utterly schocked at what taxes on ethanol are. Will the taxes be evened out between beverage and fuel ethanol? Who gets to decide that (imagine the committee fights!)? Will the 21st Amendment allow states to control the import of out of state produced ethanol fuel? While energy is important, it pales in comparison to how the government feels about taxes, leading me to think that this will in fact be quite an issue for ethanol fuel use.

Slash and burn vocabulary

So now suicide bombers are referred to as “activists” in Old Media. “Terrorist” was too judgemental, so “miitant” was used for a while. But then everyone started mentally reading “terrorist” when they saw “militant”. Naturally, then, Old Media needed to shift down another level to “activist”. I wonder what they’ll use when reality catches up to that word as well.

18 April 2006

Burning with anger to hold off the cold of despair

I was just thinking this morning about how reactionary Socialism has become. There was a time when it was The Future™, a delusional but shining, hopeful thing. Now it is the model for those most fearful of change, who want only to divide up what we have without concern about making more. It is certainly the appropriate model for those without hope, for those in a dire and extremely unlikely to get better situation (say, shipwrecked on an unihabited island). Is this a result of Socialisms complete failure to deliver on any of its promises, that if Socialism can’t be the future, there can be no future?

I do not think it a coincidence that the level of bile and hate on the Left has grown in direct proportion to the fading of this hope. Certainly the conservatives were angry when it looked like former President Clinton was the wave of the future. Yet, probably because the conservatives can think in longer cycles, the mainstream of conservatism never became as angry as main stream liberalism is today. But if you don’t have any ideas, anger is the only thing left to sustain you.

P.S. Coincidentally, Brothers Judd post this article on basically the same topic.

17 April 2006

Topinka's Millstone

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan is guilty on all counts of fraud. I think that puts Illinois back in the lead over Arizona, with three former governors convicted of fraud and sent to the big house. Take that, Zoners!

14 April 2006

Junk man

Heh. I was doing some back checking on some of the junk I get here (because it is my obsession, OK? I am otherwise perfectly normal. Well, except for the … oh, wait, my lawyer said to not talk about that).

Anyway, I was checking on one particular profilic yet apparently stupid effort involving a name with the initials M.F. (I don’t want to use the literal name but you can find it here). This junk would have a couple of random numbers in it and a link to a website of that name. But the domain name wasn’t even registered and, moreover, if you netsearched for the name you would get random weblogs that had been hit, not the actual target domain. Dumb but trivially blocked since every junk comment had the same domain name.

It turns out that my junk filter list ends up as entry #6 at Google. There are some other blacklists that show up but I am the highest ranked black list. Given the overall paucity of hits, though, it looks like Google is filtering him explicitly as I get a lot more hits at AltaVista (although I am still the highest ranked blacklist).

The domain is now registered as well. I hope it was a victim who snagged it just to be mean.

One of those little pathologies

Right Wing News has a post about the recent pro-illegal immigration marches which this quote from Neil Boortz

Today these people will be marching to tell us “Your laws mean nothing to us. We have numbers. Our numbers trump your laws.” We don’t care about your rule of law.

That seems accurate and what struck me was that this is precisely the French model of politics. What matters isn’t the law, or elections, but who can put people on the streets. I wonder how many of the amnesty for illegal immigrants boosters are also happy to be importing French style mob politics.

"Nice doggie" is good, but a sharp rock in the hand is better

I am constantly amazed at how many people think that the purpose of diplomacy and foreign policy is to achieve concensus and agreement, rather than national interest goals. Concensus and agreement are, of course, valuable means for achieving such goals. However, if a diplomat has to chose one or the other, I consider it without question better to pick achieving the goals.

I got in to bit of an argument over here and here on that very subject. One my points was that a key benefit of being the Hegemon is that we are not particuarly dependent on foreign opinions. If necessary, we can simply do as we will and tell other nations to deal with the new reality we have created. In practice, not only is that rarely necessary with regard to actual allies, but even non-allies come to see that it’s better to be on the train than under it. Despite the whining about our “unilaterism” in Iraq, we see that the rest of the world is coming around to where the USA stands and the ones that aren’t are either open enemies or irrelevant.

Moreover, holding up the Coalition of the Gulf War as a triumph of diplomacy actually illustrates my point. It was certainly a triumph of getting nations to agree. But on what? Not marching on Baghdad, leaving the Ba’ath in control, leaving the southern Shi’a to die? American interests were sacrificed in a truly bloody way on the altar of “concensus”. That’s the kind of triumph I could do without.

P.S. Since the direct subject of this argument was Iran, I am disappointed that I forgot to mention the Osirak raid. That too was condemned roundly by basically every other nation but today, it’s generally considered to have been a good idea. I have no doubt that twenty years from now, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq will be viewed the same way.

Swimming in poisoned waters

It’s a bit late, but I have to comment on The Moderate Voice’s take on the Jill Carroll episode. I don’t think it is a good post, but it does hit one interesting point:

the Christian Science Monitor reporter has issued a statement that years ago would have been unthinkable for a hostage who had made a statement under duress (it has now come out that she made it AT GUNPOINT) to feel COMPELLED to issue: a statement stressing that, no she didn’t really mean the propagandistic words her captors made her say if she valued her life.

Unthinkable in most cases if you go back in history. But necessary in 2006. Why?

The era of the shoot-your-keyboard-first and see-if-its-accurate later (and do it in a way that makes a political point you make on your site so it fits in with your ongoing narrative) is upon us.

Not at all. The real problem is that the hostage takers have become far more media savvy with a far more compliant media complex. What used to be unthinkable is that people would not only side with their culture’s and nation’s enemies but actively aid them in faking this kind of incidents. Yet it has been happening. It is irrelevant whether Carroll herself was involved in such a scheme, the fact remains that others have been, that Old Media has been acting as a propaganda organ for the Caliphascists.

An excellent point in this regard is a point made by Raoul Ortega

I find it fascinating how the Party Line this morning is that those who took her release pronouncements at face value are somehow in the wrong, but only if they objected to her statements in support of the hostage takers. Those who liked what they heard are off the hook, even though those same people were just as wrong and were immediately demanding apologies from everyone who didn’t have their same reaction. Now the continuing demand for apologies has become just another old Leftist tactic of shutting down (shouting down?) debate, and sweeping another mistake down the Memory Hole.

Just think about how likely it would have been in the past that TMV alludes too that non-fringe people would have taken the “AT GUNPOINT” statements not only at face value but as accurate about the gun pointers. That cannot be overemphasized. That is the real reason Carroll had to make her explicit statement disavowing her video, because so many of those with similar political views accepted them publically as accurate.

Societal traps

Via Brothers Judd we have the not surprising to me tale of how New Jersey fell in to a re-enforcing tangle of excessive spending, excessive taxes, and excessive regulation.

What is interesting to me is how there seems to be a tipping point after which it becomes almost impossible to recover. The root seems to be a combination of several factors.

The first is a well off middle and upper class. Given this, “reformers” can impose financial obligations on those citizens which (at first) seem small and worthwhile. These burdens grow over time but without an ideological reason for opposition, by the time the burden becomes crushing it is too late because an alliance of the tax eaters and the upper classes have seized control. The truely wealthy are not unduly burdened by the heavy taxes, both because they are so wealthy and because they can afford good tax accountants and schemes. The tax eaters get money and the wealthy get peace and ego gratification, while the middle class pays the price. Ironically, it is the very wealth of the citizenry that permits the emergence of this phenomenon.

As noted by cjm on a related topic, there may well be another factor at work which is that it’s a lot easier to vote with one’s feet than to try and change the local political culture. It is possible that the alliance of tax eaters and wealthy can out vote any possible alliance of the middle class. Can that be changed? Or is the only possible outcome the slow slide in to psuedo third world style patricians with client plebians?

13 April 2006

Locked in the sinking culture box

Ah, French students protesting. As Robert Duquette observes, protesting has long since passed from a means to an end to a self-justifying ritual.Well, mostly. Certainly that is the case in the USA, but the fact remains that in France, the students got what they wanted. It may have been a self-defeating stupid thing, but that’s what they wanted. That’s hard to square with being ineffective. Having been taught from birth that the only efficatious mechanism for dealing with social problems is government intervention, it would seem that protest is in fact the best (and only) option for bettering oneself.

This is the hallmark of a dysfunctional culture, where the optimum response as defined by the culture is counter-productive. This is precisely what makes this so difficult to recover from, as the effective means are either inconvievable or forbidden (as in France, any sort of Anglo-Saxon style economics are Pure Evil). It’s easy to say “they should take charge of themselves” but what can be done when the culure defines that in ways that fail?

Another variant of the stream of ideas

Brothers Judd has a post on the waning of the Kyoto Protocol. As always, two thoughts occur to me.

The first is that this is another example of how the citizenry of a liberal democracy get things right. In the short term, of course they are subject to random swings of opinion and fads, but in the long run the truth will tell. It’s much like the stock market, whose accuracy in valuing companies increases in direct proportion to the timescale on which you take measurements.

The other is from one commentor’s note that the next big environmental “crisis” will probably be self-replicating nanobots. The concerns about this are another reflection of much of the magical thinking that goes on with respect to nanotechnology (here for instance). Nanotech will be amazingly powerful and in many ways magical to us, but it’s still has to work within the confines of physical reality. The “grey goo” problem exists only if one doesn’t think about the energy problem with nanotech, which is where are all those self replicators going to get the energy to support unlimited copying? If grey goo were a real problem, we would be living in a sea of bacteria, which are very good at sef replication.

Of course, there will be nanotech based environmental disasters, just like the oil economy has oil spills, or (to use my just previous analogy) we have bacteriological crisises (red tides, plagues, etc.). These will be serious and we should certainly think carefully about nanotech and try to prevent such disasters. But an existential threat? No.

12 April 2006

Chain text for the new millenium

The Movable Type forums were invaded by junkers (not a weblog, the bulletin boards where Movable Type is discussed). This was was interesting. It was the standard chain letter / Ponzi scheme, except updated for the 21st Century. The key features were:

  • Use of e-gold
  • Denominated in Euros
  • Reproduction instructions discuss cut & paste, not copying
  • Pass the chain on by posting in online forums instead of mailing letters

But the best part was that it included instruction for netsearching to find target online forums in which to post the chain text!

Another interesting facet is that by using going electronic instead of sending physical letters, several benefits are achieved:

  • No need to target and piss off your friends, just post in random forums you’ll never read again.
  • The use of e-gold reenforces the anonymity of the transaction.
  • The monetary cost is reduced.

The question is, does all of this compensate for the (presumed) lower success rate without the guilt of a social connection? I note that the chain text mentions hitting 200 forums, so presumably there is some concern about this dilution.

So we see once again that everything new is old, that you can change the technology but you can’t change people.

Brothers in misgovernment

After sparring a bit over at Brothers Judd, I realized that one reason the French and the Palestinians have gotten along so well is that they share the same sort of delusional world view.

OJ mocked me for saying that the Palestinians might end up blaming their current financial difficulties on a Zionist conspiracy instead of Hamas’ genocidal policies. Yet the one thing I have taken away from first person travelogs of the region is the deep embedding of conspiracy theories, particularly those involving Jews, in the society. I don’t see it as so far fetched that yet another conspiracy theory involving Jews and international banking would be much of a stretch.

Yet even though OJ compares me to the loony Left for this, he has no problem believing basically the same thing about the French1, which brings me back to my original point. The French, too, believe that their financial difficulties are not the result of their own government’s policies but some evil “global capitalism” conspiracy trying to impoverish them. In both cases the national Street is blaming the very thing that could lift them out of their financial problems. If the Palestinians had embraced the Israeli Jews as neighbors and friends, they’d probably be envied by the Lebonese.

In reality, the Palestinians would envy the Somalis if the world had not poured almost endless streams of money into their coffers. What prosperity they have is because the PLO was good at conning cash out of the international community and holding down the violence enough to keep the money and jobs flowing from Israel. Hamas is unwilling to play that game and so we are seeing the slow motion collapse of the Palestinian economy to its natural level.

The idea that the gang of thugs who comprise the leadership of Hamas are even capable of grasping how to escape from this trap, much less willing, I find highly implausible. Just like the French government, the Palestinian leadership has created its own monster society which now traps them in to repeating the same old errors because they dare not admit that the conspiracy theories that have been peddled for decades were wrong. In both cases this is excacerbated by the intense sense of entitlement that has also been inculcated in to the population. And finally, the leadership in both cases is just as trapped in the failed mindset as the population, unable to take a truly bold step toward a solution.

1 One of those special Islamic exemptions I suppose. I am waiting to be accused of thinking that the Palestinians are unique in this regard, even after spending this post showing how they are just like another ethnic group.

11 April 2006

Flunking a political quiz

I took the IOP Political Personality Test (via Brothers Judd) and I have to say, I was much less than impressed. My result was “Secular Centrist” with the following characteristics:

  1. Strongly supportive of gay rights.
  2. Believe strongly in the separation of church and state.
  3. Less supportive of affirmative action than most college students.
  4. Less likely to be concerned about the environment than most college students.
  5. Less likely to believe in basic health insurance as a right than most college students.

(1) is just plain wrong. I am weakly in favor of gay rights, but primarily in so far as I am a coot and part of the “just leave each other alone” contingent.

I don’t have strong feelings about (2), either. Certainly the State should not be involved directly with the Church, but that’s not what is currently meant by this phrase. I have no problem with indirect control of the State by the Church, in which the Church guides the state because the people who get elected believe the same things as the Church. I would certainly prefer that to the State being controlled by the Left.

(3) is probably right, although I am not sure how much college students support affirmative action. I, personally, am very strongly opposed.

(4) was based on a trick question, “should the government be concerned about protecting the environment as it is about protecting jobs?”. That’s hard to answer for someone who thinks the government has zero responsibility for “protecting jobs”. So, I do agree with that statement but in a technical rather than common understanding sense.

I think (5) is correct though, as I don’t believe that there is any right whatsoever to basic health insurance, so college students couldn’t possibly believe in it less than I do.

Overall, it doesn’t seem to have been more accurate than chance. But I am perhaps not the best test case.

Another day wasted

… on tweaking with Movable Type and the formatting.

I am working towards getting rid of the popup windows for comment and trackbacks. Those links should now send you to the individual archive pages, which have been updated to have trackbacks as well as comments (you might not notice, since the headers are omitted if there aren’t any trackbacks). For the throngs of people who want to send me trackbacks, I have put the ping URL on the main page here. Note that it is now the permalink for the post plus a trailing “/ping”. Much easier than those old numeric based ones, and currently available only my weblogs! I treat both of you readers so well…

Who, not what.

As Senator John McCain moves closer to running for President, Orrin Judd notes that some of the MAL are shifting their views on McCain. The case in point is Helen Thomas, who has leveled the most serious charge possible against McCain — he’s just like President Bush. I can’t think of anything in Thomas’ world that would be a worse accusation.

Judd comments that

So, the question is whether Ms Thomas suddenly figured this out on her own after 6 years or whether getting her to write it is a Karl Rove op.

An interesting question, but I think it’s neither. What we have here is the leif motif of the MAL over the last couple of decades, that something is good until it would be done by the GOP at which point it becomes Pure Evil.

For instance, regime change / building democracy. Fine since President Wilson, imperialist oppression once Bush started doing it.

Or Islamic oppression of women. Some claim that NOW and its ilk never complained about it, but that’s simply false. They did, frequently and strongly, until Bush decided to do something about it by having the Taliban overthrown and trying to build a liberal democracy in Afghanistan. That’s when the Great Silence descended.

This seems to be exactly the same thing, that McCain was cool until he started to become accepted by the mainstream of the GOP. That’s the sort of taint not even a “maverick” can overcome.

This is because the MAL has run out of ideas except for “we should be in charge”. It is yet another symptom of the extreme narcissism (if not solipsism) that grips the MAL, where “good” is defined by who does something, not what is done.

07 April 2006

Why the Patriot Act was just posturing

Yet another long litancy of how the FBI actively CYA’d itself in to inaction before the 11 Sep attacks. But we can’t blame just the standard bureaocratic power tripping and inertia. The fact that the FBI has repeatedly failed to upgrade its information infrastructure to the point where it can supply e-mail addresses to all of its agents was no small part of the problem. None of this, of course, is addressed by the Patriot Act and there’s no evidence that any of it will be fixed or even tinkered with before the next successful attack.

Cross posted at Low Earth Orbit

First you need the stream

Mickey Kaus is frightened of Instapundit. Why?

One of the worries about blogs—one of my worries, anyway—was that their efficient style wouldn’t work in longer writing. Not true, it turns out. Instapundit’s book reads fast, because as a good blogger he’s clear and doesn’t waste your time. It’s just one big idea after another, like a Hollywood thriller that piles on the plot rather than stopping to tie up the loose ends.

The problem with this for non-bloggers is that it requires an actual stream of big ideas. Turgid writing isn’t a defect to be overcome, but generally camoflauge to disguise the paucity of ideas in the text.

In addition, a blogger has the advantage of having “field tested” many big ideas to see which ones stand up well and to explore the various aspects of those ideas to see which ones are most interesting. That’s not something that’s easy to do by one’s self.

Beyond all that, it would seem much better to have a stupid idea ripped apart on one’s weblog than after publishing a book on the subject. The blogosphere wins on both sides, both in battle testing weblog based ideas and providing avenues of attack for bad ideas in books. The days of being able to sneak by critics is over.

On the other hand, I don’t expect the blogosphere to have much of an impact on fiction, where correspondence to reality is less of an issue and deeper exploration of a single theme is still preferred. But for non-fiction, it should be an interesting next few decades.

P.S. Kaus gets nanotechonology badly wrong when he says

[Nanotech,] which doesn’t simply provide an efficient means of production but threatens to eliminate the economy’s underlying problem of scarcity

Hardly. Nanotech will eliminate most of todays scarcities, but those will just be replaced by others (the two big ones, IMHO, will be energy and attention). Hmmm, maybe I should do a post on that.

The tides of war

Dean’s World has a post about an attack on an Iraqi police station. The end result was 4 policemen killed, 50 Caliphascists killed / captured. Just as importantly, the police station was held and did not fall in to the attackers’ hands.

This kind of thing is signficant, because in matters military success frequently breeds more success. Policemen who believe that they can hold out against attacks are in fact more likely to do so.

This is also why the focus on casualties is misleading. Certainly one would rather not lose soldiers, but if the choice is losing soldiers or wars, the latter is much worse. My readings of military histories is that good armies have the same point of view, that winning is the thing. And in battles, generally there are more casualties on the losing side after the decisive moment than before, because once a side is broken and becomes convinced of defeat, it tends to fall apart and become easy prey for the victorious side. Based on that, it would be a reasonable assumption that we will see the largest casualties among the Caliphascists just as they are losing, not before.

Let's not return the favor

Mickey Kaus has a post on the difference between Mexican immigrants and other immigrants, as described by an big name Mexican immigrant author. This is basically that other immigrants don’t go around claiming parts of the USA as their foreign homeland, as much of the vocal Mexican immigrant community does (and as does the author). One is strongly reminded of the fact that allowing in immigrants for economic development who still have a strong attachment to their native and adjacent homeland is how we took Texas away from Mexico in the first place. Shouldn’t we learn from the mistakes of others?

04 April 2006

Alpha or Omega?

This article by Theodore Dalrymple has been making the rounds of the blogosphere lately, even though it was written back in 2004. What I find interesting is that Dalrymple comes to one of the same major conclusions that I have, that Islam’s primary problem is the lack of corrective mechanisms to keep the fanatics in check.

It also brings to mind another subject I was planning to write about, which is whether Islam can withstand not achieving world domination. In a theme related to the previous point, is what I consider a serious design flaw in Islam: it makes a promise of Heaven on Earth. One might say the same about Christianity, but Christianity holds no hope of achieving that through human means, only via divine intervention (i.e., the Second Coming). Islam, in contrast, promises material success purely through human acts, i.e. the foundation of a truly Islamic society. Sounds a bit familiar to students of history, doesn’t it?

As with Communism, the problem for Islam (as has been pointed out elsewhere) is that the West and the USA in particular achieve in their apostate ways what true Islam promises, while the Ummah remains mired in poverty, disease, oppression and failure. The very existence of the Great Satan is a rebuke if not a repudiation to Islam and therefore intolerable to the fanatics1. As Dalrymple notes, if the Ummah were content to live its own way by itself, as say the Amish do, then there would be little conflict. Islam, however, does not seem able to do that and I believe it is because of this issue. An belief that system that provides rewards in the afterlife or non-material rewards today can isolate itself and let the rest of the world go on its way. A belief system that promises the pinnacle of material success if followed properly cannot, just as Communism couldn’t. Dalrymple claims that we are seeing the beginning of the end of Islam, as this contradiction becomes ever more apparent and I tend to agree with that.

It may be that Islam can reform enough to adopt the social mechanisms of success (liberal democracy and capitalism) but I think that such a reform would be far more drastic (and therefore less likely) than it was for Christianity2.

1 Presumably it would be intolerable to the moderates as well, but non-fanatics of any religion rarely waste their time pondering such questions.

2 One is left noting that the third Abrahamic faith, Judaism, seems to have been structured appropriately for the End of History from its beginnings. A little side benefit for being the Chosen People?

If all are equal, why not self preference?

Brothers Judd provides us with another story of green rage. This one occurred at a conference in Texas but was deliberately not recorded even as the rest of the conference was. The proposal was to “save the Earth” by killing off 90% of the current population with airborne Ebola virus.

It sounds like something out of the mouth of a cardboard villian in a badly written comic book, but it was apparently worthy of a sustained ovation from the audience of other scientists (what would have been funny is to pick out 10% of the attendees and then hand the rest syringes with Ebola with the note “you know what you need to do”).

What’s funny to me is this statement: “We’re no better than bacteria!”. Yet none of the moonbats who let loose with such claims ever turn it around to say that “Bacteria are no better than us!” so why shouldn’t humans dispose of other species? Of course, the answer is that such moonbats actually believe that bacteria are better than humans, although they won’t say that because

  • It’s even more unpopular than the “no better” claim.
  • Not even moonbat “logic” can justify it.

Fundamentally, even if one accepts that all species are equally valuable, why not go with our own then, and the species we like, if it doesn’t matter which ones survive?

03 April 2006

We own the "peace of the dead" option

Driving home today I saw a van with a load of the standard peacenik bumper stickers. I found one of the funny, as it read “We are making enemies faster than we can kill them”. I thought, no, that’s flat out wrong. We may be making enemies faster than we are willing to kill them (and that’s very debatable), but we are certainly making them way slower than we can kill them.

02 April 2006

Reverse priviledges

Via Little Green Footballs is a report about the Border book chain appeasement of Caliphascist demands. There is Borders’ refusal to carry a magazine that is normally stocked because it has some of the drawings from the Comic Jihad. In addition is this claim from an employee:

I was shifting rows of books in our religion section and it happened to be that all of our Koran books (a section on its own) ended up on the bottom shelf. The next day I was informed by my General Manager that it is Borders policy as a whole (not my particular store) that due to complaints in the past from Muslim customers, we are not allowed to put our copies of the Koran on any shelf other than the top.

As usual, two thoughts spring to mind.

The first is the common rhetorical question that gets asked is why so many organizations will accede to demands from Muslims but not from, say, evangelical Christians. The standard answer is that Muslims are percieved (with justifcation) as being far more likely to become violent in response to refusal to “cooperate”. I would agree that there is something to this, but it seems to me that even so, the more likely response to threats of violence from Christians would be demands for increased protection from the state, rather than acquiesence. Yet one also notes the standard corporate response to other less mainstream religions such as Scientology. I suspect that the social acceptance among the chatterati for “standing up the fascist theocrats” (who are always Christian) is as large a factor as the violence itself.

The other thought ties back to the thread I have been following on immigration and a discussion I had over at Brothers Judd. This concerned the issue of there apparently being different and looser standards for illegal immigrants than for legal immigrants and natives. Because the USA is a Christian country, Islam is seen as an immigrant religion and incidents like this will feed not only distrust of Islam but distrust of immigrants as well. And the latter will naturally focus on illegal immigrants because they are already demonstrating contempt for our laws and customs. And finally, it seems another thread in the weaving of our loss of cultural confidence, that we as a society seem unwilling to impose the same restraints on Islam as we do on our own dominant religion.

P.S. See also this comment on CAIR’s reaction to all of this.