31 May 2006

I just read it, I don't have to understand it

Dang nab it, Dr Weevil stole my post (via Random Jottings)

“If the accounts as they have been alleged are true, the Haditha incident is likely the most serious war crime reported in Iraq since the beginning of the war,” said John Sifton, of Human Rights Watch. “Here we have two dozen civilians being killed — apparently intentionally. This isn’t a gray area. This is a massacre.”

What’s cretinous about Sifton’s statement? It’s missing three words. If true, this would indeed be “the most serious war crime” by our side “reported in Iraq since the beginning of the war”, but it wouldn’t even be in the top 20 war crimes committed in Iraq in that time period.

I heard a similar report on NPR while I was away at the mall. In that case, there was the same claim about this being the “worst war crime in Iraq” along with, at the end of the report, a short mention of three bombs going off in markets in Baghdad to achieve a completely and utter lack of awareness.

It really does have the overwhelming attitude that only Americans are real, everyone else is just part of the scenery, like sand in the desert or wind in a storm. Attacks by non-Americans on non-Americans are just background, not actual events.

Facts just slow things down

MilBlogs is reporting that there is going to be a debate on the alledged war crime in Haditha. All I can say is, debate what? We don’t know what happened there, most (if not all) of the basic facts are in dispute, so what kind of debate can occur? Have we reached the point where facts are openly considered irrelevant to opinions?

Urban unmything

I was thinking about various atrocities in Iraq recently and it occurred to me that Snopes will need to update its entry on snuff films. It claims that these do not exist, but it seems beyond doubt that many instances have now been produced by Caliphascist gangs. Yet another societal advance brough to us by the brave Islamic resistance to Western hegemony. I wonder if Hollywood will make any horror / suspense movies with that as the main plot point.

Distributed media isn't good for everyone

Apparently Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harber is boosting the popularity of his party (via Brothers Judd).

What we are seeing is the brittleness of using FUD against your opponents. This is a strong yet brittle strategy. If it works, it works well and effectively but if it is once penetrated, it tends to collapse as it becomes obvious that (for instance) Harper isn’t going to institute a Christian theocracy that would make the Taliban seem anarchic in the first 100 days of his reign.

I suspect that this is another case of technology overtaking the non-adaptive. For decades, the Socialists have been able to run Old Media as a sophisticated propaganda organization, particularly in Canada. This proved to be sufficient to put out enough FUD to create and maintain a high level of control over politics. Now the Socialists are being hit from both sides. As their media power fades, they have chosen to crank up the volume to compensate, leading to ever more need of media power, creating a degenerative cycle that ends in Bush Derangement Syndrome. I can’t wait to see what that mutates in to in February, 2009.

30 May 2006

Why worry about a puppet without a hand?

Via Winds of Change,

In unusually frank criticism of U.S. policy on Cuba by a top military officer, the outgoing head of the Miami-based Southern Command said Thursday he favors a top-to-bottom review of the policies, including a long-standing ban on most contacts between the U.S. and Cuban militaries.

I used to support the embargo on Cuba but now I oppose it. What changed? The USSR collapsed. While Cuba was a de factor forward base of the USSR, the embargo was the correct choice. Once the USSR got tossed on the ash head of history, Cuba ceased to matter to American foreign policy, except as a annoyance. It was the embargo and Soviet support that made Castro a player on the world stage. Once he lost the latter, we should have taken the former away from him too, leaving him revealed as what he is, just another brutal dictator with too much speech writing time. No other plausible action would have been as devastating to Castro and his regime as that. Yet here we are, 15 years later, still running our foreign policy as if Castro mattered. Hopefully President Bush can get some actual realism injected in to that situation.

Evil vs. Stupid

That Hayden nomination just sailed through, didn’t it? I suppose we can take from this event that the national conversation on the NSA call tracing is over and opposition to it was not a political winner. Or perhaps not enough of one, the Democratic Party preferring to let the GOP tar itself as the party of corruption, letting Hayden go by in order to not knock that story off the front page.

28 May 2006

Watch out who you step on on the way up…

I read reports like this about Kurdish guerilla groups operating in Iran from bases in Turkey and Iraq and think, “gosh, that’s some cool payback”. Other parts of the report don’t look good for the mullahocracy, but we’ve seen resistance like this before that was broken by the regime. I live in hope but not expectation.

26 May 2006

That's how you thank someone who rescues you from a sinking ship

Vicente Fox, President of Mexico, recently spoke in the USA about Mexican immigration to the USA. As I have noted in previous posts, I am still ambivalent on the subject, believing that some immigration is an obvious good, but very concerned that (as in many other areas) too much of a good thing is no longer good.

Yet I was still taken aback by one of Fox’s comments, which really grated:

It [passage of immigration legislation in the Senate] is a moment that millions of families have been hoping for; this is the moment that millions of people have been working for

Think about that a minute. A head of state is praising a situation in which millions of his countrymen have been allowed to flee his government. It’s like KMart praising Walmart for letting former KMart customers shop there instead.

What impression is Fox trying to make? It only makes sense if Fox views the emigres as a waste product he and Mexico are well rid of. It doesn’t seem like the best message to be conveying for someone in an election campaign, unless that’s how the rest of Mexico thinks. Or perhaps no one there has any hope except escape. That would make the rest of Fox’s speech, about how the Mexican government is working to improve things, in an interesting light.

25 May 2006

Gone to the mall

Work has been demanding this week, and we’re taking a long weekend to go to Minneapolis / St. Paul and visit with some friends of She Who Is Perfect In All Ways. The kids are excited about the trip because someone let slip that there is multi-story Lego™ store there. Hopefully, I will be back Tuesday.

It only looks dumb

As I watch the ruling class move to protect itself (President Bush orders records sealed for 45 days, or until the issue gets buried) from the fall out of the FBI raid on a Congressional office, I read other weblogs waxing furious on the issue.

They’ve gone nuts!

Did Al Qaeda slip mind-altering drugs in the DC water system?

Sadly, I suspect that our current incumbent perpetuation system will leave no mark on the people now protecting Representative Jefferson. It may well be that the ruling class looks at the electoral fallout vs. evidential fallout and decided the first was going to be a lot less painful. Now that Bush is backing them, it looks like that was indeed the way to bet.

UPDATE: ghostcat writes that perhaps President Bush intervened in a quid pro quo on support for his immigration package. We’ll see.

Warmed over globe

So Al Gore’s new movie is making “global warming” hot again. I remain a skeptic on multiple levels, both about the scientific issue and the political ones.

My skepticism on scientific grounds are

  • As far as I can tell from the model descriptions, the effects of green house gasses are presumed to be linear without bound. But in real life, there is only so much re-radiation that is blocked by any green house gas (100%). Never do I see any mention of what percent is being blocked currently or any accounting for this limit.
  • Given the recent flurry over methane and trees one needs to ask just how solid any of the science is (this is also indicated by the Ice Age scare of the 1970s).
  • The continual conflation of global warming and anthropogenic1 global warming also indicates that the proponents understand the weakness of their case for the latter.
  • I still remember predictions from the 1970s of much more varied weather in the future from a purely “reversion to the mean” analysis. We grew up in a period of unusually benign weather and are now panicing when the normal variance re-asserts itself.

On the political side, one must note the hysterical support for the Kyoto Protocol which, even according to its backers, would do very little about the problem. It’s like someone reacting to their burgeoning credit card debt by clipping coupons. It’s clear they are either clueless or not really concerned.

And in combination, the deliberate confusion of anthropogenic warming with normal climatic change. The problem here is that the solution sets are very different in these cases and it appears that this is the point, to rule out solutions that do not involve self deprivation, such as nuclear power or L1 solar shades.

In the end, I think it’s the high probability that there is global warming but it is not anthropogenic that is the inconvenient truth for Gore and his ilk.

UPDATE: Some more dissent on global warming. But I’m sure they only fringe, right-wing moonbats …


1 “Caused by human activity”.

24 May 2006

I didn't say to sacrifice my privileges!

In watching the paniced reaction of Congressional leaders to the FBI raid, it occurred to me: someone needs to ask Senator McCain about this. He is, after all, the person who thinks it’s fine to discard the First Amendment in pursuit of clean government. So why not whatever bit of the Constitution Congress is claiming prevents raids like this?

19 May 2006

We like inmates, not home owners

Another big whine from the MAL about spending money on border security. Isn’t it odd how the MAL loves regimes like Castro’s Cuba that spend big chunks of money on locking people in, yet hate governments that spend big chunks of money on keeping people out? But I suppose it’s consistent with their dislike of self defense in general.

P.S. Two funny comments were the deep disgust that some tax money might end up in private contractors hands and the hypothetical question of how we in the USA would feel if Canada built a wall to keep out all the Americans fleeing north to get “inexpensive prescription drugs and affordable health care”. Haha, maybe we’d just close the border to the import of those prescription drugs! Or stop the Canadians fleeing south for actual (instead of affordable) medical care.

18 May 2006

How do I work this?

This comment led me to think about how the welfare state is at the root of so many problems, including immigration (I put the welfare state at the top of the list of reasons why our assimilation capacity is lower today than historically). The welfare state was designed to produce weak, dependent subjects out of citizens and it has done quite a lot of that. But when one looks around at the MAL, one can only think “these people are supposed to have created this clever and long term a plot?”.

This thought is a sign of how the Left has evolved. The MAL is heir to the legacy of earlier socialists who were intelligent, well written, thoughtful, and obviously quite persuasive. They were capable of this level of planning. The MAL in contrast are like barbarians wandering the ruins of their ancestors, having lost not only the knowledge of how to work the vast, failing machinery, but indeed of what the machinery was intended to do. How much of the rage is fueled by this awareness that they are expected to be doing something, but have no idea what or how, while the comfortable edifices they inherited crumble around them? They rage, rage, against the lightening of their Dark.

17 May 2006

I am now net neutral

I have been meaning to comment on “net neutrality” for a while. I was originally an opponent but I have been persuaded by arguments on both sides that net neutrality is something that should be enforced. This has been not only by pro- arguments, but by some of the truly vapid anti- arguments. I still think that this is a debatable issue, with many nuances, but one has to make a decision and I think net neutrality is clearly the least bad alternative (the good alternative would be to eliminate the last mile monopoly, but that’s not going to happen any time soon).

As case of the latter: an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal by Holman Jenkins, who is usually more sensible. When he uses the phrase “IP fetishism”, you know you’re no longer dealing with logic. Here’s an example:

Your cable operator may sell you one, two, or three megabits [per second? can’t even get that right] of capacity for a broadband connection, but most of his pipe is reserved for his TV offerings.

Yes, but that’s irrelevant, since that capacity was never sold to consumers as IP bandwidth. Moreover, one can (and I do) purchase just bandwidth from a cable company without paying for the TV allocated part of the pipe. The cable is, in fact, net neutral for all IP traffic. I will touch on just one more silliness, because it’s blatant:

it’s obvious that […] they [AT&T, Verizon] will be under competive pressure to keep giving consumers bigger and bigger pipes […]

and

“net neutrality” would result in an increasingly unreliable Internet as more and more high-bandwidth applications contest for space on networks that nobody would have an incentive to expand.

Both of these things cannot be true. Unless one thinks that competitive pressure is no incentive in American business.

But there are other reasons, some of which I realized while reading this post from Right Wing News. Hawkins is normally a sensible kind of guy, but he really bifs it here. For instance he writes “Who are the biggest supporters of net neutrality? Other big corporations like Verizon and AT&T” which is completely backwards — those are the companies opposed to net neutrality. But what’s really wrong is his basic analogy:

Imagine you have a city and a big corporation, we’ll call them Corporation X, builds a plant 30 miles outside of town. Well, Corporation X needs a way for their employees, customers, and suppliers to get to their plant, so, at great expense, they build a highway that runs from the city to their plant.

We’re already off the rails. X didn’t build the plant, other people (like Amazon and Google) did. X built the road in order to charge people to get to the plant. That’s their business model. Now, X wants to charge the plant owner more money to let his customers (who have already paid X to use the road) get to his plant. X wants to sell again something he’s already sold. The essence is that Google doesn’t send traffic through the ISP to me, I use the bandwidth capacity I have purchased to have network traffic with Google. Part of the agreement for that bandwidth is that I get to use it have network traffic with whatever other networked computer I want.

The idea that other companies can “use the network to take their [ISPs’] business” is completely wrong. Those other companies are in a different business and, moreover, without those other companies there would be very little business for the ISPs.

Even in libertarian terms, the ISPs don’t have much of a case. Net neutrality has been the standard from the start and to complain as if they had just noticed that is laughable. Give up the last mile monopolies and then I am ok with dropping net neutrality. Until then, if the government is going to restrict the pipes in to my house, the least bad regulation is to make the pipe content neutral.

Their lot is to suffer for our purposes

I read things like this, that celebrate or at least view positively, the triumph of the North Vietnamese Communist regime over South Vietnam. The concensus is that it would be a good thing for the same sort of thing to happen in Iraq. I am left wondering, why do these people hate the Vietnamese and Iraqis so much, that they would wish such misery visited on them? The war in Vietnam ended with mass executions, slave labor, repression, and the exodus of hundreds of thousands (in the neighborhood of how many Arabs fled Israel during the 1948 war). Even if one complains about the poor handling of the war by the neocons, at least they wanted Iraq to improve. These people just want Iraqis to suffer to justify their hatred.

Rate limiting

The debate over immigration seems to have become one where actual discussion is rapidly becoming impossible. Even over at Brothers Judd, I can’t seem to get people to engage my actual arguments. Instead of wasting my typing there, I will expound on my point here where I have the space and time to provide a fuller explanation.

As I have discussed previously, I am not sanguine about the ability of the USA to absorb large influxes of immigrants. The essence of this is two questions I asked the proponents of unrestricted immigration.

  • Is there an upper limit to the number of immigrants who can be successfully assimilated per unit time?
  • If so, how likely is it that proposed changes in immigration laws would create immigration rates larger than this limit?

David Cohen provided a coherent and relevant reply which makes him stand out in the crowd. He agrees that there is a limit but that no real world rate would exceed it. I disagree, but it’s certainly an arguable proposition. Other responders didn’t seem to understand the question.

The essence is that in order to function in a society, one must have a set of attitudes, habits, conventions, expectations, etc., that I will refer to in short hand as “memeware”. This includes things as abstract as a general expectation of liberty to the proper way to queue up for voting1. The expression of these memes creates the society that can be observed2. From this, we can deduce that immigrants in general have dysfunctional memeware, because otherwise their original societies would be as good as ours and they wouldn’t have gone to the effort to emmigrate.

As in my previous post, I don’t think this is anything different than the past. The particular dysfunctions may be different but the overall situation is basically the same. I will note that the memeware that we have in the USA that enables us to have the society we do was developed at great cost over multiple centuries. Transmission of the memeware, fortunately, is much easier than creating it3. This is what makes assimilation of immigrants without permanent damage to the host society possible. The dysfunctional memes can be replaced by ones from the host society, making the immigrant a native over time4.

There’s a catch, though — the memeware that runs our society is not a priori obvious. Much of it can only be learned, not deduced. Therefore, someone must teach it. That is the limiting factor on the rate of assimilation. There are only so many natives to teach, only so much of their time they will devote to it. This has the effect that, until the limit is reached, there is little negative impact from increasing immigrant flows. It seems to me, however, that the flip side is that once the limit is exceeded, things can get worse very rapidly5. A key point which seems to get missed is that the desire of the immigrants to assimilate becomes irrelevant past the limit point because the societal resources simply do not exist to satisfy the desire.

I was accused of wanting a government training or propaganda operation, despite my history of opposing direct governmental intervention in social matters. It’s particularly sad because the same person posted this less than 24 hours later in which he describes an archetypical example of what I meant. He writes

I began to notice that, far from being the socio-economic burden I feared and expected, Somali kids were starting to win all the school prizes and Somalis were proving to be far more pleasant, informed and diligent in stores than the clueless young native-born Canadians who seemed irritated that you were bothering them and appeared never to have been taught the word “thank-you”. The story isn’t trouble-free — immigration never is — but that my city has been enriched by the Somalis is plain for all but the wilfully blind to see.

One young boy of Somali immigrants plays on my son’s hockey team, which I coach. He is smaller than his team mates and more enthusiastic than talented, but he plays his heart out and does whatever is asked of him. His entire family comes to all games, including his mother and sisters in traditional dress. The other night, he scored our winning goal and the sheer innocent pride and joy he and his family expressed was a wonder to behold.

Exactly! The Somalis came in dysfunctional but were taught (by a combination of the school system, class mates, neighbors, soccer coaches, etc.) how to function in liberal democracy. It is a natural process for societies that are capable of it (and if they’re not, no government program will change it). That young boy gets to be on a soccer team with natives, who provide direct instruction and examples for him. He, in turn, may some day be the coach himself, passing on what he has acquired. But, and again this is the catch, the entire process depends on there being enough natives that their memeware dominates and the immigrant gets the upgrade. This is the same limiting factor, viewed more concretely.

Orrin Judd claims that “the superior culture assimilates the inferior” with an allusion to Darwinism. However, Darwinism is filled with chance and error, providing no guarantee at all that the superior will win out, only that it is more likely to do so. History verifies this. There are many expatriate Americans who should carry our culture to foreign lands but do not that our “superior culture assimilates the inferior”. In fact, the Americans (particularly in the State Department) are the ones who assimilate to the local culture. It is obvious to all but the most blinkered that numbers matter, which is yet another view of the limiting factor I have been writing about.

What, then, are we left with? There is a limit to the ability of our nation to assimilate immigrants. We have little idea what the limit is. Historical records are of some use, but one can make strong arguments that our capacity has decreased since those days. We note that our society is a rare thing, being almost unique despite its obvious success and effort at export. If it is lost here, there is no guarantee that it will arise again. It is for these reasons that I am cautious of opening the immigration gates wide from the start. I would support significant increases in current rates, but I think it behooves us to ease them up somewhat gradually instead of trusting to fortune that we have not made them too high.


1 I don’t use the term “culture” because that is usually taken to mean the expression of a more limited set of memes, not the internal information that exists inside people. In addition, a society can have many cultures and I want to talk about the broader set of memes that create the society.

2 Orrin Judd writes “Darwinism is true as a social science, just false as a biological one” but he is unwilling to follow the logic of his own claim, because that makes memes the competitors, unless one goes in for biological determination of those memes.

3 There’s an anti-singularity argument in there, where one could argue that as we approach the putative singularity, the meme transmission cost to sustain the society in which that is possible rises as fast as the technology, thereby preventing the sort of run-away process the creates the singularity.

4 It is of course one of the memes of American society that makes it such a successful society that a native is one who has acquired a minimal set of the societal memes. We have been an information society from before the very beginnings of our nation.

5 To riff on the education analogy again, it’s just like class size. Experience shows that up to a limit, class size matters very little. But once class size exceeds a limit, things fall apart. The system does not degrade gracefully.

16 May 2006

Fight for it, boys!

Over at Brothers Judd we have an article about home distilleries for producing fuel ethanol. I touched on this before and it’s heart warming to see that others are discovering the points I made about decentralization and taxes.

The problem with home distallation is not technical but financial, in particular government financial. Ethanol taxes are a big revenue stream which local, state and federal governments are not going to give up easily. There is a reason that BATF agents who hunted for non-taxpaying ethanol distillers were called “revenuers”.

The current situation with home distallation units is that the operator promises to add methanol to the output to poison it and prevent human consumption. This may be enforceable with a small number of units, but if any sort of home or local distillation becomes common, the idea that there wouldn’t be massive evasion is delusional. If heavy regulation is used to prevent that, it could easily remove much of the advantage of distributed distallation, negatively affecting the use of fuel ethanol relative to gasoline.

I must say that I am looking forward to the tax fight over fuel ethanol. It would be morbidly amusing to see fuel ethanol fail because of an excessive tax environment, especially with the reaction of the people who want to heavily tax gasoline to adjust behavior.

Not completely hopeless yet

It seems to me that President Bush has a narrow but viable path out of his current immigration dilemma, based on his speech last night. The two key aspects would be the fence and assimilation. Bush would need to take both of those very seriously and push hard on them.

The assimilation issue would be an excellent with which to break the Democratic Party. It was, after all, Democratic Party leaders who spiked the most recent attempt at legislating a compromise bill because it had an amendment that would have deported illegal immigrants convicted of felonies while in the USA. That’s not a position even the most rabid open border supporters in the GOP would take . Yet, there is the Democratic Party staking it out (and House Minority Leader Pelosi has already condemned the ‘mean spirited’ House bill). A push for assimilation would be even worse, as the Democratic Party would not be able to embrace that without its own fissures and lose of base, yet it would be a wildly popular position (I would guess a basic 80/20 split). Based on other votes and polls, I suspect it would likely be majority popular among the illegal immigrants themselves. It’s an issue that has caught the attention of the American Street. It would seem a most excellent stick with which to beat Bush’s opponents on the Left.

On the other side, a serious effort at border control would likely placate the rebels on Bush’s right. Bush could indulge in his free spending habits because how could the GOP object to such spending, after it was so strongly demanded? We could also finally see whether the American Street is in fact willing to pay for real border security. Either it is, in which case Bush plasters over the GOP fissure, or it’s not, in which case the issue goes away and Bush plasters over the GOP fissure.

UPDATE: Looks like Instapundit thinks the assimilation theme is a big deal as well.

14 May 2006

Not Sure, Apathetic

I got in to a discussion with SWIPIAW about the recent NSA call logging brouhaha. Initially I favored the Bush Administratiob because Old Media was openly lying about the issue (claiming that the content of communications was being tapped, not just envelope/billing information). How bad could it be if the openly salvo required obviously false lies? I read up on it a bit in the blogosphere, but didn’t see anything that affected my view1.

But SWIPIAW has actually lectured on this very subject and seemed more concerned. I explained my point of view and the evidence on which it was based, she said “could you e-mail me the cites?”. Having received orders from on high, I set out to do exactly that and found some things that shifted my viewpoint.

The first was SWIPIAW’s question about “tap and trace” or “pen register” warrants. The NSA call logging is basically a massive tap and trace operation, in which a log of calls is obtained but not any content of those calls. What SWIPIAW asked was “what’s the point of a tap & trace warrant if this is legal?”. That seems to me to be a very good question. Are tap and trace warrants now anachronisms, a remnant of a bygone era? I read the actual CALEA law text and that didn’t clear things up much. Everywhere it talks about getting a warrant, it also says “or other lawful authorization”. CALEA is a big deal in the network securityworld, but the law itself is about forcing compliance on the pipe owners and their equipment suppliers and says (as far as I can tell) very little about who or what is authorized to make use of these capabilities (that presumably being covered elsewhere). There is also apparently a loophole in the FISA act which permits government access to data used for billing records. That may well have been written when billing records weren’t so detailed, but today there’s no difference between a full call log and a billing record.

Other readings lead to me to believe that the law here is internally inconsistent with the legality of the call logging dubious but not obviously lacking. I expect an over-correcting backlash in Bush’s favor because of the initial overreach of Old Media, who I have seen time and again being simply unable to hold back from hyperbole and thereby deadening any mainstream reaction to the actual facts of the case. You’d think they were all being paid off by Rove.

At this point, I think that the problem is the unwillingness to publically defend its actions on the part of the Bush Administration. One can of course compare the civil liberty violations by the Bush Administration very favorably with previous war time administrations (such as Lincoln or FDR) but there’s only place the Bush Adminstration compares very badly and that is in public discussion. Lincoln and FDR took far greater powers, but use of those powers was open and well known. This kind of rules lawyering may seem clever and convenient now, but like Clinton’s fine grained grammar parsing, it detracts from the office and will come back to haunt both the Bush Administration and the nation. But this follows a pattern of Bush simply not defending his actions, right or wrong. I think that’s no small part of Bush’s dropping popularity, as supporters have to wonder why they’re being left to do the heavy rhetorical lifting.

This leaves me at a weak negative, but my overall feelings are lost in the noise of so many more important issues.


1 I won’t say I like having the federal government being able to get my call logs at will, but the fact is that the information is out there, it’s going to be available, and trying to stop this kind of thing is spitting in to the wind. I already assume that all of my e-mails are effectively public information and would be retrieved should I ever become someone important enough that they would matter. It does enforce a certain level of discipline that I find beneficial in my electronic dealings.

Non-mutual destruction

Via “Instapundit”: I came across this post which has a theory about the timing of the pro-illegal immigration marches (sponsored by the stalinist organization ANSWER). The theory is basically that Hugo Chavez is trying to get his buddy elected President of Mexico by getting the USA to restrict illegal immigration from Mexico. After that, Venezuela and Mexico would then cut off oil imports to the USA, crippling our economy.

Even though that is a really dumb plan, it’s not beyond the realm of plausibility because Chavez has already shown that he is not exactly well plugged in to how the world really works. But it’s still worth looking at what exactly is wrong with the plan.

The biggest error is the idea that Venezuela and Mexico could stop selling oil to the USA. First off, oil is fungible. Which means that it doesn’t matter who, exactly, producers sell to. The net effect on the price paid by the consumers is determined by the overall supply and demand, plus risk premiums. The only way to have a real effect on the USA would be to stop selling oil entirely, which suffers from two additional flaws, that it would punish every oil consumer and that it would likely bring down the Venezuelan and Mexican governments. The fact is that those two states are far more dependent on oil income than the USA is on their oil. It pays for all the bread and circuses that keep what order exists. The populace may be fine with spiting the USA, but not if it means cutting off the government largesse.

I am also far from convinced that building a secure border in the south would make much of a difference in Mexican internal politics. The reaction of the Mexicans to the USA forcing them to stay in Mexico would be to vote in someone they hate, who is an open ally of a South American caudillo who is rapidly running his country in to disaster? Moreover, such a border wouldn’t affect any Mexicans who didn’t like the USA more than Mexico already (if they liked Mexico better, they’d stay and so what would they care about a secure border?).

And finally, electing a Chavez ally would almost guarantee immediate and accelerated building on a secure southern border. Again, I am quite willing to believe that most Mexicans would like to stick to the USA, but I am not willing to believe they would be willing to make any significant personal sacrifices to do so. Frankly, it might well be best for the USA to get a Chavez ally elected in Mexico to clarify the situation, just like the election of Hamas clarified the position of the Palestinians.

13 May 2006

It's what's inside that counts

Opinion Journal had an editorial about the Daily Kos the backing of Ned Lamont’s primary challenge to Senator Lieberman. It’s a rather quixotic quest, but perfect for the Daily Kos, which so far has a perfect string of defeats.

I wonder, though, if D.K. is really concerned about winning or even whether winning would be a good thing. Consider the gist of the original article cited in my previous post, about the power of myth in sustaining socialism. If we make the reasonable assumuption that modern day socialism is about internal psychology instead of real world effects, then it may well be that winning would be devastating. The psychological benefits that exist are from the self image of being one of a few elite who see The Truth, unlike the masses of sheeple, contented and stupidly chewing on the ruling class’ propaganda. Moreover, not being in power means that there is no painful impact of the 2×4 of Reality on cherished dogma. And finally, since real world results are irrelevant, what’s the upside of winning? None, really.

I can’t help but think of Hamas, which did much better when it was the embattled minority. Nothing has been more stressful or damaging to Hamas than having to be an actual governing organziation with real responsibility. Even Hamas knew this and tried to weasel out of it right after the elections. Perhaps D.K. has seen the wisdom of its tactics in the hardships of Hamas.

Market morality solutions

Back on 27 April, the Wall Street Journal had an article about wireless carriers setting decency standards for content that goes over their networks. This wasn’t in response to any government action, but out of concern about upsetting customers. This is a perfect example of the minarchist / libertarian argument that if you can get decency laws passed, you don’t need to because the market will have already taken care of it.

The error, I think, is that many of the modern day decency crusaders strive for a level of purity that is simply unobtainable in the real world. It is very reminiscent of the “zero-tolerance” policies in various schools which generally fail at their primary mission while having many unpleasant side effects. An example of this is the recent alliance between pornographers and decency crusaders to prevent the creation of an “xxx” top level domain, in to which adult erotic content would be segregated. The pornographers were against it because they don’t want the (presumed) social stigma of being there and the decency crusaders because of their zero tolerance mindset. The result is that the pornographers stay in the mainstream internet, just like they wanted while the decency crusaders got … nothing. Way to help out the porn industry, dudes!

“Indecent” content is not going away, so the best that can be done is to segregate it so that it can be more easily avoided by those who do not want to see it. I can’t think of any libertarian based objection, as it is simply “truth in advertising”, providing more information to consumers. It does remind me, however, of the argument conservatives use for the “third way”, that the social safety net is not going away anytime soon, so the best thing to do is move to an “ownership society” which at least presumes the primacy of market mechanisms rather than government fiat. Real politics is the art of the possible, not the perfect.

11 May 2006

The Big Myth

Over at TCS Daily is an article that ponders the question, “why are there still so many Socialist when Socialism has been such a dismal failure?”. The author believes that is because Socialism offers a myth, in the old style, for its followers. I find this compelling, because it is the same view I have taken in the past, that the true purpose of the resulting activism is all about the internal psychological results and not about the external reality results. This is not the same thing as Logo-Realism but Logo-Realism is a big help in re-enforcing this dynamic by providing the illusion of results.

The author also states that free market capitalism is at a severe disadvantage as long as it doesn’t have its own myth. That is a point on which I disagree, and I think it speaks directly to American exceptionalism and helps answer the question why It didn’t happen here.

The counter-vailing American myth is that of the self-made man, the pioneer who builds up himself, his family, and his community through his own effort and sacrifice. We have the Cult of the Maker, which venerates those who make and do, those who break out of the crowd and achieve beyond the average. And this seems to me to be the correct myth for capitalism, which is a means, not an end. The end is creating a society in which the Maker can make and so far liberal / capitalisistic democracy is the best structure we know for doing so.

P.S. Some other good comments at Winds of Change.

10 May 2006

You have to kill off one or the other

Via Brothers Judd, we have an article in Der Speigel finally notices that Europe is a set of mutually collapsing polities. What struck me in reading the article is the evidence that the biggest reason Europe can’t escape from its political tar pits is that ruling class is to a large extent the same actual people that were there 30 or 40 years ago. Looking through that lens at politics in the USA, I note that the political party that just can’t get over its reality dysfunction is the same party that is being lead by the same people who were leaders 30 or 40 years ago. Unlikely to be a coincidence, I think.

09 May 2006

The wonderful world of monopolies

I may be down for the week. The local cable company (Insight) is doing some sort of upgrade which apparently requires taking down entire segments of the network for up to a week (without warning or notice, of course). The service line is busy all the time and there was a huge line at the service office but not, of course, any signs or handouts explaining the problem so everyone who wanted to know had to wait in line to be told the story. Luckily I managed to eavedrop enough on someone else to get the gist.

UPDATE: Looks like I am connected once again. We will see how long the network stays up this time.

08 May 2006

Barrier to entry

I was thinking this weekend about the immigration issue, regularized1 borders, and differences in modern immigration vs. historic immigration. It occurred to me that much of the open immigration supporters seem to assume that the level of immigration would remain constant even if entry were easier. I don’t think that’s likely.

If getting a green card required only showing up at a border station and filling in some forms, then I don’t see why we should not expect something like the Muriel Mariel Boat Lift on a continuous basis. I doubt we’d get the level of criminality that characterized that incident, but one wonders why a significant fraction of the population of, say, Haiti, wouldn’t leave as fast as they could load up on boats. Could the nation handle yearly inflows on the order of 10% of the population? There are habits and social conventions that keep our nation the successful place that it is. Even if all these immigrants were willing to adopt, could they in that kind of flood?

As I have mentioned in the past, and I only feel more so as time passes, the USA seems to have a unique culture that, for some reason, just does not seem to take anywhere else in the world2. There must be some reason for that, and it’s not clear to me that whatever that is would survive the level of dilution that unrestricted immigration would create. I don’t think it’s completely narcissistic to think that the world is better off with the USA to which only a few can immigrate than a world without a USA.

Of course, the unrestricted immigration proponents will bring up the point that the USA had unrestricted immigration in the past without these dire effects. That’s true but irrelevant. I think there are several differences that are large enough to be qualitative.

  • Transport to the USA used to be fraught with risk, expense, and delay. That’s completely different now, when much of the world’s poor can afford an airplane ticket to get here. Previous immigrants had a much higher level of drive and perserverance, because only those types could overcome the hurdle of transport and isolation from their previous culture and homeland. Those people would still come, but would be diluted by a much larger number no longer daunted by the rigors of immigration.
  • The communication revolution hits on both sides. The wealth of the USA is no longer a rumour, but something that can be seen every day on TV. On the flip side, leaving home isn’t such a traumatic experience, when phone calls back home, chat rooms and weblogs make it less separating than moving to the next town used to be.
  • As we move to an information economy, a desire to work and a strong back is far less valuable than it was in the past. Immigrants can’t, for instance, go out and homestead their own farms.
  • We have far more of a welfare state, which provides a very undesirable set of incentives to potential immigrants.

This is not to say that the USA cannot and should not support much higher levels of legal immigration than it does now. It is to say that I don’t think the USA could handle unrestricted immigration without losing that vital spark that makes this nation what it is. Historically, the previous high water mark for immigration was in the 1900-1910 decade with a rate of 1.6%. I would be fine with something close to that, say 1.5% per year, or roughly 4.5 million. I think even that would be a severe strain, but on the other hand it might strain the socialist tendencies enough to help work for their rollback.


1 By “regularized” I mean the Orrin Judd style borders, strongly enforced but with a “must admit” stance. I.e., everyone is checked coming in (no sneaking) but the burden is on the border patrol to show why an immigrant should not be admitted. Without a specific reason, the immigrant gets a green card automatically.

2 With the arguable exception of Australia.

05 May 2006

Don't let your analogies out of their cages

I was reading a post about a potential error in a capital case, when someone brought up the George Bernard Shaw quote:

It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their own kind.

As usual with leftist cant, it sounds good but falls apart once one thinks about it in general and not just in the specific case (yet another example of the particularist vs. meta dichotomy). If Shaw is right, then does the State locking people in prison teach kidnapping? Does not the collection of taxes by the State teach extortion? What’s the difference?

On the other hand, if you think the citizenry is smart enough to understand context and to realize that there is a vast gulf between acts done through societally agreed mechanisms and acts done by individuals flouting those mechanism, then it’s easy to distinguish. Why, if that viewpoint were common enough you’d think there would be a word to express the appropriation of societal authority by individuals. Oh, wait, isn’t that “vigilantism”? Doesn’t Shaw’s claim require that no one understands the meaning of that word? But, of course, his statement is meant to feel good, not think good.

04 May 2006

Junk futures

It looks like other people are noticing something I posted about a few days ago (via Winds of Change).

The basic problem concerns application hosting services (AHS). In contrast to a webhost, which provides a virtual host machine on the Internet which the client configures with the desired applications, an AHS provides the application directly. Typepad is an example which provides the Movable Type application, or Smugmug which does photo galleries. Such services are proliferating because, for clients who really only want the provide application, they are cheaper and enormously easier to set up. From a junk point of view, the key features are that such services generally provide the ability to put up user generated HTML content in at a domain address for free.

While I agree with PT that being netsearch engine friendly and trusted are desirable characteristics of AHS targeted for colonization by junkers, I think that is secondary to them providing a source of free domains. I certainly see a lot of junk from obscure hosting services (such as u-blog.net and phlog.net). It is also the case, as I noted, that hosting services that don’t protect themselves against this kind of colonization will ostracized from the larger community1. From a junker point of view, even if a particular AHS becomes such a pariah that is is useless, there are always more of them waiting to be used and discarded at no monetary cost to the junkers.

What are the likely responses to this? One I have seen in a few places but I expect to become much more common is requiring a valid credit card even for free services. This service as a form of confirmed identity. It is not that one can’t fake that, but it would require engaging in a much more serious criminal act that is easier to prosecute and it would be trivial to detect the re-use of the same identity for large numbers of service instances.

I don’t think we’ll see much of a move toward invite only communities, as those don’t do very well unless the sponsor is already well known (e.g., gmail and Google). Not that such things won’t exist, but they won’t be a significant factor in the overall AHS market. Or, alternatively, the meaning of “invite” will be diluted into meaninglessness just like invitations to get a credit card2.

Internal policing will be important, but I am not sure how effective that will be given the scope of the problem. Absent some sort of gatekeeper software, no economically feasible staffing level could keep up with junker softbots registering new service instances.

Weblog defenses will continue to improve, although at this point my defenses are handling new variants with very little tweaking (I did end up banning the .fr domain). But this is limited as well, because of the fact that the point is to allow anonymous and unexpected communication.

Ultimately, the solution will be expensive (in some way — money, time, effort, latency) identities. As noted, credit cards can serve as a proxy for that today, modulo the problem of potential clients being unwilling to provide the information3. Any such identity system doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to raise the bar high enough to make junking infeasible.


1 And even that might not be enough, as there’s no reason that the colonized host can’t also be target for junk from the same hosting service.

2 One does wonder if the junk market is sufficiently lucrative that, should credit card numbers become an important identity system for AHS, it would be worth it for a junker to sign up for every card he could, as that would not involve fraud.

3 This will be less of a burden as more people shop online and become used to providing that information to obtain online services.

02 May 2006

Useful idiots

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about how the immigration issue is “boiling over”. But what I wonder was, what exactly could the illegal immigrants do? Leave? Annoy the American Street enough to create the political will for mass deportations? I find the theory that ANSWER, the original organizer, had as its goal to make things worse for illegal immigrants, not better. The goal would be to create the pre-conditions for violence and/or revolution, a situation to ANSWER’s benefit, if not that of the cannon fodder.

It seems like that isn’t going to work out so well, as many illegal immigrant groups have figured out what a bad idea these marches and protests are from the point of view of the actual illegal immigrants. It may be bad to be an illegal immigrant in the USA, but obviously it beats the heck out of being a legal national in Mexico or points further south.

01 May 2006

Did I miss it?

It’s the end of the day of illegal immigration protests. I didn’t notice, it didn’t even seem to be a big issue on the blogosphere and there was no evidence of anything going on in this regard locally. I personally think the protests will have about as much effect as the ones against the invasion of Iraq — a few weeks of being big news before they are quietly forgotten.

Junk field observations

I have seen a big drop off in comment junk at the various weblogs I operate. I keep the last 60 days of junk comments at every weblog and one of them has droppped from 11,000 junk comments in that time span to less than 300. The other ones have dropped so dramatically but they are all done very noticeably. Trackback junk, on the other hand, is way up on the weblogs where I didn’t implement my full set of countermeasures (you can see the stats for this weblog in the right side bar, near the top).

I am not sure what this means. It could be that the set of comment junkers is smaller and they are mostly IP banned. Perhaps various efforts have rendered comment junk insufficiently rewarding. What concerns me is that there is a growing set of people who are simply dropping trackbacks, which are easier to do without than comments.

Still, it may be that there is a tipping point with weblog junk that doesn’t exist with regard to junk e-mail, in that if junkers can’t get enough junk out there to influence search engines, the junk has now value.

Same difference

I added a new category today, inspired by Mona Charen’s book Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help. I haven’t read the book yet, but I suspect it’s filled with thihgs I already know as the counter productiveness of most of modern liberal thought (or the MAL as I usually refer to those who hold such views) is obvious to observers who look at facts instead of opinions.

The decision came to me as I was listening to some old songs which had lyrics that bemoaned the endless sameness of the suburbs as I read about Jane Jacobs who bemoaned the urban renewal projects of the 70s, projects heartily supported by the liberals of the time (and never repudiated, as far as I can tell). Yet what did those projects do but impose a drab sameness by force on neighborhoods and cities? Is not such enforced sameness the very hallmark of socialism?

After all, if your ideology is fundamentally intolerant of material differences between people, sameness is the logical end of the philosophical road. Yet when people do it voluntarily, they recieve nothing but scorn from such people. Perhaps it’s just that the MAL has the view that any exercise of free will taints a project.

For the want of an adjective, the story was lost

It’s the big “illegal immigrant action” day (naturally on 1 May, to avoid any hint of being organized by Communists). NPR has of course been covering it heavily already and, like the author of a certain weblog we all read, has been working hard at eliding that key adjective “illegal”.

It did occur to me to wonder whether any legal immigrants or naturalized citizens would be taking part in the action and, if so, what exactly they would be protesting about or agitating for. All the evidence I have seen indicates that legal immigrants quite naturally have the highest levels of dislike for illegal immigrant and there doesn’t seem to be any point to this action other than legitimizing illegal immigration.

NPR did slip up a bit and note that many of the organizations now involved have been reminding the prospective marchers to carry American flags. That reminding is necessary is in my view quite telling about the attitudes present1. That’s also another thing that makes me wonder about legal immigrant participation, as such folk tend to be strongly patriotic enough to not require a reminder of this nature.

If it turns out that the protestors are 95+% illegal immigrants and their liberal parasites, then perhaps opponents of illegal immigration should help organize these events on a regular basis, as it would certainly send a message to companies that hire illegal immigrants.

1 Yeah, everyone says “what about St. Patrick’s Day parades?”. But no one has to remind those marchers in order to have phalanxes of American flags. I had never been to such a parade myself so I went and found pictures of the event in New York City and it was hard to find actual Irish flags for the clouds of American ones. So I don’t see it as analogous at all.