30 July 2006

Road trip!

I’ve been sent on a family vacation by She Who Is Perfect In All Ways so posting and responding will be even more erractic and sporadic than usual for the next week or so. But I’ll be back, exhausted and cranky, a perfect combination for political commentary.

29 July 2006

Biblical cars

PapayaSF comments in one of many anti-car threads

If only I knew the Bible well enough to somehow prove that cars were squarely in the Abrahamic tradition

It seems obvious to me. Cars are the modern analog of horses and burros. Biblical characters didn’t wait for caravans or wagons. They hitched up their own, personal transports and headed off. The State, such as it was, maintained the tracks and paths for these personal transports, just as is done today. It seems clear that our current car based culture is far more similar to Biblical tradition than a train / bus based mass transport culture would be. Ony a committed secularist could think the latter a good thing.

It's different when it's your own money

This post in the on going Senator McCain boosterism at Brothers Judd has some actually interesting information. It appears that McCain is running away from his campaign finance nationalization efforts.

What’s interesting is that Judd has posted in the past that signing the McCain-Feingold bill was good politics because it was popular with Republicans, but now we see that even McCain knows it’s wasn’t and isn’t. What, then, is left of OJ’s excuse for President Bush singing such a blatantly un-Constitutional law?

As for McCain, I can’t say this makes me think worse of him. It’s been clear to any but the ideologically blinkered that McCain’s efforts were always about McCain, not about being good or popular (except with the chatterati).

27 July 2006

Being there

Brothers Judd is rediscovering the Fermi Paradox, although none of the commentors seem to remember previous discussions.

What I found interesting here is that all of the commentors seem to think that detecting the existence of alien technological civilizations would be done by detecting their communications. On the contrary, it seems to me that we are far more likely to detect them via their works. There is no good reason that I know of to presume that such civilizations would not engage in environmental engineering on a scale that would be visible across much of the galaxy. But the primary form of environmental impact we would observe would be the colonization of our own solar system. It would be hard to miss, for instance, heavy mining of the asteroids or gas giant moons, or perhaps the disassembly of a gas giant or two for raw materials. That’s a bit different from inspecting faint radio signals for signs of intelligence.

Resolving the Fermi Paradox doesn’t require explaining why we haven’t had contact, but why we’re here at all instead of an alien colony. Even at only 1% of lightspeed, a species could colonize the galaxy in less than 20 megayears, which is an short amount of time on the scale of galatic history. As Fermi himself asked, “where are they?”.

26 July 2006

Oh, I'm sure it will just be another couple days…

I find it ironically amusing that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is busy trying to arrange for a multinational force to satisfy Israel’s requirements for a cease fire when anyone with clue realizes it isn’t going to happen soon, if at all. Surely Rice is aware of this, she can’t have been that corrupted by the State Department yet. So what is she doing?

Basically what this commentor says — stalling for time while looking busy. For various reasons, she wouldn’t want to come right out and say that, but by going through the futile motions, she prevents anyone else (particularly Hizballah’s puppet masters) from getting anything arranged.

What amuses me is that this is the same obstruction by delay that the UN and other anti-American / anti-Israel gangs have used in the past to hold up any response to their transgressions. It does show the power of being the actor instead of the reactor and I can only hope that the American/Israeli axis continues to push the pace while making nice noises at those who would normally intervene on behalf of the Caliphascists and their fellow travelers.

No cash, no carry

There’s been some speculation about this picture from a video showing the aftermath of an Israeli attack on a bank in Lebanon. The image clearly shows $100 USA bills, apparently in uncut sheets, leading some to wonder if these are counterfeits. It is known that Hizballah enages in counterfeiting such bills as part of their fund raising efforts, but it seems very unlikely that these are from such an operation.

An alternative explanation is that these are photocopies of bills, kept to track serial numbers (I suppose it’s faster and more reliable than writing them down, although perhaps they should just use Where’s George).

I find this explanation far more plausible. While the image isn’t high resolution, it’s still very clear that the bills overlap and that if you cut up the sheets you would have roughly half bills, but certainly not full ones. Unless the multiple sheets are in fact stacks of sheets, all perfectly and consistently aligned in multiple piles in the aftermath of a bombing.

There is enough of each bill to see the serial numbers which bolsters that claim.

Bottom line, I find the anti-counterfeiting claim far more plausible than the counterfeiting one.

25 July 2006

But everybody hates Americans!

Over at Lean Left is a post about staying on in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, Lean Left comes out against it. The author’s main complaint is about two assumptions made in support of continuing in Iraq

First, he assumes that the police and the Army need training only, that they are primarily loyal to the central government. There is precious little evidence for that, and quite a bit against it. It is a widely understood fact that a large portion of the Iraqi Army comes form militias, and that those militia members are primarily loyal to their particular militia group or sect. I have a hard time seeing the Kurdish units that were folded into the central army marching north alongside their Shia counterparts to enforce the will of the central government on the Kurdish people.

It is always astonishing to me how little history those in the MAL seem to know. This is not a problem first faced by the government of Iraq, but a problem that has plagued empires since the dawn of recorded history. It’s a bit more difficult to take the direct measures in a liberal democracy that suffice in a monarchy, but the idea that it’s a problem with no viable solutions is a-historical. If nothing else, proper unit assignment can do a lot (so, for instance, you don’t send former Peshmurga to put down a revolt in Kurdistan). You can also mix up the units at a platoon or company level, making defection more difficult and risky. Liberal democracies can also draw on a level of participation from its constituent minorities that is frequently not available to an empire.

I will not claim that it’s a slam dunk, but it seems very workable to me and hardly an assumption that terminal undermines the argument for the long term success of the Iraqi government.

Second, it assumes that the US can reach the required goals in a time frame that is workable. The US presence has two detrimental effects on the situation: it kills civilians, which progressively radicalizes the population, and the longer it stays the permanent it looks, which lends credence to the terrorist propaganda about conquest and crusades.

This is a common argument that, in my view, suffers from the lack of agency problem in which only the actions of Americans matter. Do not the recurring massacres by the Caliphascists ever radicalize the population to oppose the Caliphascists? Or do they get to kill civilians without consequence because they’re not Americans?

This also seems a bizarre point of view to adopt for a website that frequently worries about incipient fascism in the USA. Isn’t it the standard view that terrorizing civilians and presenting a menace are an effective way a fascist government solidifies power? So why doesn’t that work for the Coalition and the Iraqi government? Somehow, in that case, it’s a negative for the central government. And heck, isn’t that exactly how Syria took over Lebanon? But it’s just different when it’s America.

P.S. There are some excellent counter-comments at the original post.

You don't force people to do what they want

I have to dissect this quote

Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Bangladesh, afghanistan, Palestine.… Left to their own devices the Islamic nations uniformly adopt the Anglo-American system. The Muslim preference for democracy has been demonstrated too often now to be debatable.

The compatibility of Islam and liberal democracy is, to me, still very debatable and examples like this followed by a non-sequitor assertion do little to change my mine. Let’s check out the examples:

A liberal democracy created by militant secularists who did what they could to suppress Islam.
A military dictatorship that doesn’t even have control of its own territory.
An oppressive theocratic regime.
Uh, it was invaded, not “left to their own devices”.
Has its problems, but I would count it as an example of the claim.
I’ll count that one.
Invaded. Palestine Not a liberal democracy, looking very much like one man, one vote, one time. Even if Hamas does reform, it will be because of massive pressure and intervention by the West.

Not exactly an inspiring list and very far from “uniformly adopting” the Anglo-American system even without counting Western interventions (one could make the argument that only Turkey made it without such intervention and that was by the secularists). And this is a list made by a proponent of the claim, so any selection bias should point the other way.

One could argue, however, that many of these nations have at least gone the cargo cult route with regard to the Anglospheric system of government. That might ease the transition at some distant point in the future. However, I see little hope that any of these nations that aren’t already there will make the transition on their own. It will require a lot of effort and pressure from the Anglosphere to accomplish that, which is not a usual indicator of a natural cultural propensity.

Today, I became a dissident

I finally managed to get my comments at Brothers Judd edited and deleted, putting me in that select club. The details follow, because this is my weblog and I can write what I like, even if it’s boring and self absorbed.

The subject on which Judd was driven to such hackery was an obscure one, concerning whether there are various levels of human behavior.

We had sparred on that point before and when Judd posted that silly article by George Gilder I couldn’t resist quoting his own source against him. That, apparently, was a quote too far.

At first he just edited one of my comments, condensing the quote from Gilder showing that Gilder, too, saw many levels in human behavior. I thought the edit was amusing, as Judd missed the point of the quote and left the meat of it so that his edit actually improved my argument. The crowning touch was that he then sniped at me about “zero […] reading comprehension”.

I pointed this out, leading him to engage in redefining the terms of the argument by changing “human behavior” to “human beings”. I had already adopted a policy of not responding in a thread once that stage was reached so I noted the switch, declared that it was an implicit acknowledgement of my point, and that the thread was done. That was too much, so that comment was deleted. Why this idea is so sensitive to require dropping counter-arguments in the memory hole, I can’t say. But the significance of the issue doesn’t seem to have much to do with whether dissent can be tolerated.

As others have noted, one of the joys of Brothers Judd was the exchanges among the commentors, but if those comments are being edited and deleted, then what is left of the experience? It’s not the control that’s the problem, but the dishonesty in altering conversations without acknowlegement. How can you know, then, what the commentors actually said? That takes a lot of the savor out of the experience.

24 July 2006

Maybe they are our ally, if inadvertently

In other things that have dropped off the news are high gasoline prices. I was out on an errand today and saw premium gasoline at $2.95 / gallon. I remember (not so many months ago) when that would have been front page news. Now, no one seems to get very upset. I suspect that this is because the reaction to high gas prices has primarily been psychological, not financial. In real terms, gasoline is only moderately expensive, certainly not as expensive as it was in the 1970s oil crisis. People have a psychological reaction to such prices but after a while, when life basically goes on as normal without lines at the gas stations and no surge of bankrupticies, it just gets absorbed in to the zeitgeist.

At this point, it seems to me that high gas prices are not going to be a resonating issue for the 2006 elections. Given the war in the Mideast and the situation in Iraq, national security seems like it will be once again a major item. This post goes in the counter-productivity pile because it seems that Hamas and Hizballah have picked a rather bad time to bring national security back to the top of the US political agenda. I suppose it’s better than doing it in July 2008.

Change the words and the minds will follow

One theme that has been heavily used by Caliphascist fellow travelers in the West is the concept of “proportionality” with regard to military operations. As usual, what we have here is the classic re-definition of a term to something completely different that is more useful to the Caliphascists.

When I first heard all the whining about Israel reacting “disproportionately”, I wondered where that concept had come from. I asked about this over at Brothers Judd and was pointed at some original documents.

It became clear after perusing them that “proportionality” in the Law of War had a specific meaning in international law. This was that military means should be proportional to military ends. If a nation decides to conquer a city, then it is required to avoid civilian casualities where possible. For example, if control of the city isn’t contested, then the conquering nation may not use force against it (this is the concept of “open city”) because such use of force is not needed or even useful for the accomplishment of the military goal.

I find this is a very reasonable principle, because it basically says “don’t be wantonly violent”. Note that it says nothing about the selection of military goals, only about what means are used to attain them.

The newly minted definition that I see much used is radically different because it is based on a comparison of military goals between two parties. I.e., Israel is being “disproportionate” because their military goal of destroying Hizballah isn’t proportional to the capture of two IDF soldiers. I found no mention of such a restriction in any of the original documents I read, which rightly leave such decisions to the political processes of the nations at war. That’s not acceptable and so the meaning was changed by a self selected set of elites in order to further their own goals.

This is precisely why so many of us who pay attention disdain international law, because it becomes not law but merely the pretext for implementing the political will of the unelected and unaccountable. Like arguing with people who simply redefine their terms when caught in a logic trap, there’s no point in treaties if the language has no fixed meaning.

Twisted spinster

I am beginning to worry a bit about Orrin Judd and his accumulation of infallible pronouncements. Given the rate at which he generates axioms in his public belief system, an internal collision seems inevitable.

In one example, Judd starts with the claim that Hizballah is an ally of the USA and then laments how Hizballah’s plan is working. But if Hizballah is an ally, isn’t it a good thing that their plan is working, and it would be a bad thing to mess it up (by, as Judd suggests, hitting the regimes in Syria and Iran). But anyone who could write this:

One suspects that if you give them [Hizballah] a state their militancy will dissipate quickly, as has happened in Palestine.

is suffering from at least a mild case of reality dysfunction. Almost as soon as Hamas had control of a government they started working on a plan to start a war with Israel and succeeed. By that standard, Hizballah’s militancy has already evaporated (i.e., they successfully executed a plan to start a war with Israel). But I don’t think that’s what is meant by standard usage.

UPDATE: Cleaned up and clarified the language a bit.

Bad scenery

Over at Solomonia is a post about being threatened with violence for taking video and still images of a public protest (isn’t it interesting that you can guess the ideology of the protestors from just that fact?).

What I don’t understand is why it is considered objectionable to take pictures of a public protest? Is what goes on supposed to be secret, even though it’s held in public areas for display to the public? If your organization is doing things that you don’t want known at public protests, it would seem a better plan to just not do thing in public that you don’t want other people to know about.

How can a movement pretend to incipient majority status when it doesn’t dare let its actions be seen by that same majority? This just reinforces my view that much of what passes for politics in the Left these days is psychological theatre, design to play to an audience of the select and it’s so very annoying when the scenery gets up and interferes in the production.

21 July 2006

If only all of my targets were this soft

Via a left website I encountered this display of remarkably inept disinformation by Tariq Ali (the name should have tipped me off). But I promised to analyze the document, and Ali seems to be a well respected name among that sort, so let’s be about it, people.

I suppose I should emphasize that I focusing on the article and its tenditiousness, not much on proving the opposing position, because I have already gotten the “demonization or canonization” reply on this subject.

In his last interview - after the 1967 six-day war - the historian Isaac Deutscher, whose next-of-kin had died in the Nazi camps and whose surviving relations lived in Israel, said: “To justify or condone Israel’s wars against the Arabs is to render Israel a very bad service indeed and harm its own long-term interest.” Comparing Israel to Prussia, he issued a sombre warning: “The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase ‘Man kann sich totseigen!’ ‘You can triumph yourself to death’.”

Naturally one would go with a German on this, rather than the most famous person to say this, King Pyrrhus (from whom we get “Pyrhhic Victory”). One needs to set up the correct imagery, after all, rather than relying on facts or persuasion. One is tempted to counter with the name of another German famous for that kind of thing, but I will forbear.

It also bears noting that Israel never fought against “the Arabs”, but against sovereign states which happened to be populated primarily with Arabs (although not entirely, a point often missed in discussions like this). There are, in fact, Arab members of the Knesset. One would search in vain for members of Jewish communities in the governments of those hostile, not the least because such communities, many of which had been present for centuries, were driven out after 1948.

One need argue that these are equal or that one excuses the other, but to completely disregard the latter creates a very distorted view of the situation.

In Israel’s actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the self-righteousness with which it wrecks the social infrastructure of weaker states, and a belief in its racial superiority. The loss of many civilian lives in Gaza and Lebanon matters less than the capture or death of a single Israeli soldier. In this, Israeli actions are validated by the US.

Just a bunch of vacuous contentions, the oddest one being that Israel should be more concerned with other people’s citizens than its own. Even more bizarrely, if one considers the actions of Hamas and Hizballah, it seems clear that Ali expects Israel to be more concerned with the lives and well being of Palestinians and Lebanese than either of those.

The offensive against Gaza is designed to destroy Hamas for daring to win an election. The “international community” stood by as Gaza suffered collective punishment. Dozens of innocents continue to die. This meant nothing to the G8 leaders. Nothing was done.

It had nothing to do with the Hamas government’s explicitly stated aim of destroying the state of Israel? Ali also seems to define “collective punishment” as action that has any negative impact on the Palestinians. Isn’t it interesting that because Israel is a democracy, all of its citizens are held responsible for the actions of the state by people like Ali, yet the Palestinians in Gaza are not? And that the attacks on Israel are not also “collective punishment”?

Israeli recklessness is always green-lighted by Washington. In this case, their interests coincide. They want to isolate and topple the Syrian regime by securing Lebanon as an Israeli-American protectorate on the Jordanian model. They argue this was the original design of the country. Contemporary Lebanon, it is true, still remains in large measure the artificial creation of French colonialism it was at the outset - a coastal band of Greater Syria sliced off from its hinterland by Paris to form a regional client dominated by a Maronite minority.

No, Israel is frequently restrained by the USA. Much of the recent history of the Middle East is the USA attempting to impose its will on Israel via mechanisms such as the Oslo Accords.

Another key point to note is that claim that the USA and Israel want to topple the Syrian regime. Keep that in mind but for now, the question to ask is: why is that a bad thing? Who would it be bad for? The Syrians? The Lebanese? It would be bad only for the Ba’athist thugs running the place and that is the sort of person whose welfare concern Ali. So much for his concern over the “little people” expressed earlier. And, of course, we have the “Greater Syria” phrase, which doesn’t seem to be a phrase used by people who support an independent Lebanon (is the only problem of foreign control of Lebanon when it’s Israel?).

The country’s confessional checkerboard has never allowed an accurate census, for fear of revealing that a substantial Muslim - today perhaps even a Shia - majority is denied due representation in the political system. Sectarian tensions, over-determined by the plight of refugees from Palestine, exploded into civil war in the 1970s, providing for the entry of Syrian troops, with tacit US approval, and their establishment there - ostensibly as a buffer between the warring factions, and deterrent to an Israeli takeover, on the cards with the invasions of 1978 and 1982 (when Hezbollah did not exist).

Even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then, and there’s little doubt that the Shia in Lebanon have been on the short end of the stick for a long time. But Ali can’t resist polluting his own case by flipping from his claim that the American-Israeli access wants a client state in Lebanon along with overthrowing the Syrian regime to supporting Syrian domination of Lebanon. Not only that, but Ali himself just referred to Lebanon as part of “Greater Syria”, so why would he view this support as a bad thing? His mania to blame everything on Israel, the USA, and Europe blinds him so much that he can’t even see what he wrote in the same article.

The killing of Rafik Hariri provoked vast demonstrations by the middle class, demanding the expulsion of the Syrians, while western organizations arrived to assist the progress of a Cedar Revolution. Backed by threats from Washington and Paris, the momentum was sufficient to force a Syrian withdrawal and produce a weak government in Beirut.

And that’s not a good thing? I forget, is Syrian domination of Lebanon the natural order of Greater Syria, frustrated by the scheming colonial French, or an evil Zionist plot? My head just doesn’t turn fast enough to keep up with Ali.

But Lebanon’s factions remained spread-eagled. Hezbollah had not disarmed, and Syria has not fallen. Washington had taken a pawn, but the castle had still to be captured. I was in Beirut in May, when the Israeli army entered and killed two “terrorists” from a Palestinian splinter group. The latter responded with rockets. Israeli warplanes punished Hezbollah by dropping over 50 bombs on its villages and headquarters near the border. The latest Israeli offensive is designed to take the castle. Will it succeed? A protracted colonial war lies ahead, since Hezbollah, like Hamas, has mass support. It cannot be written off as a “terrorist” organization. The Arab world sees its forces as freedom fighters resisting colonial occupation.

So, fighting colonial occupation means turning Lebanon in to a Syrian client state? And isn’t the Beirut government weak primarily because of the existence of Hizballah, meaning that it is Hizballah that is preventing Lebanon from having a government strong enough to stand up to the colonial occupiers?

As for a protacted war, that’s just laughable. Israel will withdraw when it’s finished. Not only that, but Syrian didn’t end up with a protact war. Oh, right, they weren’t colonial occupiers, so that’s all right then.

I don’t see any suggestion that perhaps a good idea would have been to stop striking at Israel once it withdrew from Lebanon. A telling omission in my view.

Throughout, Ali never provides no even semi-consistent view of how things should be, except that Hizballah should fight. As far as I can see, that’s because this is just a screed, with no purpose except to lob blame at Ali’s enemies regardless of rhyme or reason. It is, frankly, depressing that this kind of tripe is taken seriously by anyone.

19 July 2006

It's popcorn time

I see some of the MAL weblogs still defending the attacks by Hamas and Hizballah. It’s interesting that even as other Arab nations give up on those groups (even the Saudi Entity isn’t blaming Israel, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says negotiations were “sabotaged” by someone else), the dedicated in the MAL still man the ramparts.

It must remind them of global warming, similar to being on a low lying atoll with the gradually rising sea advancing day by day. Foreign governments gradually aligning with President Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy”, pet causes losing support even among previous ferverent boosters, the local parties self destructing via incoherence and internecine fighting… Fun to watch, though.

A tool, not a hand

David Cohen ponders the burning question, “Political blogs: Are they dead?”.

Asking whether political blogs are dead is kind of silly. If the question is whether political blogs have lost their influence, the answer is that they never had much influence. The on-line population is too different from the real world population. Try to imagine people voting based upon a blog’s endorsement; once you get past Kos, it’s almost impossible — and Kos always loses.


What a political blog can do is facilitate conversation between those who inhabit a more narrow ideological spectrum. Right libertarians can talk to theocons who can talk to neocons. Sometimes, Darwinists can talk to aDarwinists who can talk to anti-Darwinists. But for this discourse to work, there must be limits. For example, no one can talk to those who are anti-car.

I think that’s basically right but misses some of real power of the blogosphere.

The first issue is that I am writing about the “blogosphere” and not weblogs (especially not any particular one). Like voting, weblogs are influential only in aggregate. Any specific weblog matters only infinitesimally, but taken as a whole they do have quite a bit of influence.

This brings to another issue, which is the very definition of “influence”. I agree that direct influence from the blogosphere is rare and when it does occur is of a negative form, in not letting somebody spin the facts as they would like. As is said, you can’t beat something with nothing and while the blogosphere can point out that one side has nothing, the blogosphere can’t create something on the other side.

Yet the blogosphere can have quite a bit of indirect influence, by forming a matrix in which ideas can thrive until they’re big enough to survive out in the real world. Or you could think of the blogosphere as an armory that produces ideological weapons for the people who do the actual fighting. In this way, they can act as did the coffee houses and pamplets of the 18th and 19th centuries1. You didn’t see anyone come out of that mileu to power, but you certainly saw those of power using it both to acquire ideas and to spread them. So I expect future politicians to use the blogosphere.

The key thing to keep in mind is the ancillary nature of the blogosphere and the miniscule importance of any particular weblogger or weblog. It’s when a weblog or its author takes itself seriously that you get the kind of silliness represented by the Daily Kos.

P.S. The original article also misses the point that most webloggers write just because they can. Audiences and influence are nice but hardly essential. You’d definitely see a drop in the total population but the view that weblogs would disappear if no one read them shows a deep lack of understanding of how these things work.

1 Just consider the provenance of the Federalist Papers, which could easily have been weblog posts. I was also struck when I read Fatal Purity of the heavy use pamplets by all of the revolutionaries. This is one thing the American and French Revolutions have in common.

Same difference

Orrin Judd seems to be getting a bit testy over the events in the Middle East, dropping accusations of being “eliminationist” with even less hesitation than ever1.

I think it’s because his confident predictions of a Hamas reformed by the rigors of democracy (although he’s hedged a bit here and there) has failed to play out. Instead, we see Hamas starting a war precisely to avoid the kind of democratic accountability that might require them to temper their platform (which I expected from the start).

Judd now expects the same thing for Hizballah and I expect he will be disappointed in the same way. If the Hizballah leadership has the choice of peace with accountablity or war without, why would they chose peace? Especially if peace would also mean loss of Iranian and Syrian support in cash and weapons? Hizballah is a failed regime, just like the Ba’ath in Syria and Iraq and there’s very little hope for the Lebanese or the Israelis until that regime is changed like the Ba’ath in Iraq.

1 Interestingly, organizations that have explicit eliminationist elements (such as Hamas and Hizballah) don’t get tagged with that epithet.

Sometimes you need to enlarge the problem to solve it

Via Daimnation! is an article by Charles Krauthammer about how the IDF should remove Hizballah from Lebanon, something almost everyone (except Iran and its proxies) would like to see.

It seems to me, however, that this is an underpants scheme of the form

  1. The IDF invades southern Lebanon
  2. […]
  3. Hizballah is expelled and the sun shines brightly on the world.

Detail matter when interacting with the real world and not bloviating about it in an opinion column or weblog. The big issue here is, how does the IDF identify Hizballah personel enough to evict or kill them? If the IDF targets the leaders, why couldn’t they pop off to Syria as the Hamas leadership did?

That is not to say that cleaning out Hizballah to the extent it is possible isn’t beneficial in the short run, but in the longer term it seems futile unless some larger action is taken to deal with the problem (such as destabilizing the Ba’ath regime in Syria). Israel cannot extirpate Hizballah by any set of actions taken only in Lebanon and if the will doesn’t exist to act elsewhere as well, the long term costs will outweigh the short term benefits.

17 July 2006

Reality always seeps in

Via Daimnation! is an article about the price of appeasement by the EUlite, China and Russia.

On every major security challenge, from North Korea’s missiles to Iran’s uranium enrichment, diplomacy is undermined by Chinese, Russian and sometimes Western European foot-dragging. These powers are happy to criticize unilateralism and belligerence at every turn. But when there’s a chance to make diplomacy work, they call for U.S. leadership and hide behind the curtains.

There’s a direct causal link between this freeloading irresponsibility and Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon. The Chinese and Russians ensure every day that diplomacy is limp, and then they sound surprised when Israel chooses the military option.

As usual, two thoughts:

First is, why would these nations consider the current outcome a failure? The main goal, it seems to me, is not to achieve any specific result, but to avoid any responsiblity so that they can do exactly what the article laments, free-load off international security provided by the USA. Whatever happens now, all those nations can claim “not our fault!” and switch to whatever sides prevails. It’s like furniture shopping with She Who Is Perfect In All Ways. I am completely unhelpful, and she threatens “maybe I’ll pick out something really horrid!”. I laugh, because I have a much higher tolerance for horrid and she just can’t help having good taste. In the same way, the free loaders believe that whatever Israel and the USA do, they would never do something so horrid that it would be worse than the effort of doing something themselves.

Secondly, I think that the level of reality leakage has hit a critical point. Israel can act and disregard the “limp diplomacy” because the scurrying ants of shuttle diplomacy have been fried by the magnifying lens of reality. The old words of “engagement” and “negotiation” are used but they don’t have the effect they have in the past because too many have seen too much of the hollowness in them. The bottom line is that Israel will be able to do what it wants and everyone knows that any complaints are just ignorable rhetoric. That bit of reality may be the only hope for the region.

Perhaps your secret plan would be more secret if it weren't published in a national magazine

US News and World Report has an article about problems the Democratic Party is having on RKBA issues. Here’s the money quote:

Gun-control proponents should avoid efforts like the assault weapons ban that were more effective at agitating gun owners than at preventing gun violence, says Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. He recommends targeting unscrupulous dealers, and points to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who leads a coalition of over 50 mayors backing a crackdown on illegal gun sales. For backers of gun control, perhaps that’s a start.

Note the direct implication of this — it’s not about public safety but about banning guns. Advocating positions that support public safety is purely a marketing technique, designed to get citizens used to government intervention. You can see this because the suggested action, which contributes to public safety, is a “start”, not something valuable in itself for its contribution to public safety. One is left wondering, of course, about what the real goal is. Is it really just an irrational1 fear of guns?

1 Irrational because it’s disconnected to public safety. A gun banning movement that was concerned about public safey might be wrong, but it would be rational. But a movemment that simply wants to ban guns regardless of the public safey implications strikes me as a bit nutty.

14 July 2006

Wilson will win again

There’s been much nattering about the civil lawsuit filed by the Plame/Wilson gang. The general gist is that Wilson et. al. will suffer terribly because of power of discovery this provides to Cheney et. al. The view is that WIson’s gang is delusional, making a big mistake by not understanding how this will play out. I think it’s the other way, that Wilson understands the dynamics better than conservative / GOP boosters.

The basis for thinking Wilson will be sorry is that there is so much information damaging to Wilson and his fellow travelers around to discover. This is, without a doubt, true. But from where comes the expectation that Cheney and his crew will take advantage of it? It’s just not the GOP style.

One need only go back to the last Presidential campaign. Remember all of the claims that Bush would eviscerate Kerry over his lies and consorting with the enemy during the Vietnam War? I do. Remember when the advertisements came out about all that? I don’t. The GOP just left all that on the table. I don’t see any evidence that the same thing won’t happen here, that Cheney / Rove / etc. and their lawyers will just not take advantage of the powers to savage WIlson. And even if they try it, Wison will offer a settlement that gets him out of the situation cheaply and this offer will be accepted.

On the other hand, the Wilson gang will find the entire adventure a monetary and publicity cornucopia, and with the cheap price of finishing at the end, a big net win. The other side will be left wondering where their shiny victory went, why so much was left undone. The MAL will have won yet another tactical victory. If it weren’t for the grander strategic tides of history being against the MAL, the conservatives would be toast.

13 July 2006

It's a mix-master world out there

Via Daimnation! is a reference over to Relapsed Catholic and the court case over CleanFlicks.

The set up is the CleanFlicks buys movies, edits them to “clean them up” and then re-sells the modified versions. Hollywood et. al. thinks that nobody should be allowed to modify their content, even after they have sold it.

A common (but wrong) claim is that CleanFlicks was violating copyright by duplicating content. That’s simply wrong, as CleanFlicks bought an original version for each modified version sold. I do not see any difference between this and after market text books that are pre-marked with notes and highlights. CleanFlicks is exactly the same thing, so I wonder if the text book manufacturers will now be able to shut down such used book sellers.

Shaidle at Relapsed Catholic makes arguments that are not flat out wrong like that, but seem to me to be weak at best. One of her primary argument is

what if there was a company called Dirty Flicks that added nudity and swearing to movies like Because of Winn Dixie or whatever it was called, to make them more appealing to non-Christians?

Then how would you feel?

No different and that seems like such a no-brainer that I feel I must be missing something basic about the point. Yet this is brought up in two of her three posts, so it clearly seems like a good one to her.

Slightly better is this:

The idea that some third party would make unauthorized changes to a work of art by me or anyone else is utterly. Absolutely. Disgusting.

At first I thought Shaidle was thinking that CleanFlicks was altering customer’s DVDs without their permission, but that’s not what she meant. Elsewhere she writes:

It is not my copy of the Titanic. It is James Cameron’s film no matter how many millions of copies there are. And it cannot be changed without his consent.


You are focused too much on copyright and broadcasting and so forth and not on the inviable integrity of the physical artifact. Because you are not an artist you do not understand this issue on an intimate level.

I simply don’t believe that even a little bit. It was never Cameron’s because the original content belonged to the investment consortium / movie studio that paid for the film. And past that, a copy ceased to be even their property once it was sold.

But even taking it at face value, it still fails in so many ways that I can’t take it seriously.

What about the actors, other producers, crew, etc. Don’t they get a share as well? Is unanimous approval needed for a change? What if I just wanted to change some sound effects, would I need to get the sound crew, or can Cameron approve for them?

If this kind of “inviolable integrity” is granted to Cameron, who else gets it for which works? Can Teen Beat magazine have teenage girls arrested for cutting up the magazine and thereby violating the physical artifact? If not, why not? As another person mentioned, what about the films altered by MST3K? What about the photographers whose work was violated by AllahPundit and his photoshop satires? Should this integrity prevent people from fast forwarding over commercials and violating the artistic choices of the broadcast network programmers1?

Oh, but that’s different.

You can’t explain why, can you?

Oh, wait, sorry, I am re-using part of Shaidle’s artistic work and violating its physical integrity. But it’s too late, because I’ve already done selective quotes instead of her entire, integral posts. I can see how this rule would make it a bit hard to have any sort of cross-weblog discussions.

This leads us to another point made by others but worth repeating, is that it’s not possible to distinguish in a clear way between personal edits and edits made on behalf of a person by a third party. What, really, is the difference between a CleanFlicks customer and the same person hitting “SKIP” on the DVD control every time the scene is about to play? Only personal convenience and being on the other side of that argument is a guaranteed losing place to be.

Ultimately, of course, it comes down to Shaidle’s wounded asthetic sense, as the phrase “you are not an artist” demonstrates. Shaidle has no way of knowing that about me, other than I disagree with her on this point. It is the (perceived) asthetic quality of the work that makes Titanic different from Teen Beat. In that regard, if Shaidle wants to simply say that the bowdlerizers are low brow hoi polloi who do not appreciate true art, fine. I don’t know if I could argue against that, at least not in my case2. But that’s not the issue here, it is whether such gutter level appreciation should be legal. On that point, Shaidle is arguing that if the work passes some ineffable level of aesthetic quality, then it should have legal protection. When that level becomes effable, let me know, until then I don’t see how that can be enforced.

In a bigger view, as Nick Gillespie has been pointing out for years, the re-use of artistic content is a tradition that is older than written history. Even Homer got his basic material from other people, not to mention what the Council of Nicea did to earlier Christian artistic content. It is only the recently inflated egos of Hollywood that creates the idea that it should be any different. I intend to enjoy re-hashed content regardless — just think of me as one of the low class rabble hanging out at the Globe Theatre at the turn of the 16th century.

1 Not to mention that the artists being defended have muddied the waters themselves, with all the “special edition” and “director’s cut” output, which simply demonstrates the lack of any true physical integrity to the work. And who should know better, right?

2 Who is to say that my code isn’t artistic? I certainly put a lot of creativity in to it, and I have also seen it degraded, modified, and hacked in to ugly little bits after hundreds of hours of intense effort spent creating it. Been there, had it done to me, not persuaded. I also think it’s telling how “art” means “cinema” and not other forms of creativity.

10 July 2006

We know all about trust

Over at Brothers Judd is a post about applied ethics in which L. Rogers wonders:

Whenever I see one of these “experts,” I wonder who this person is, what makes him an “expert,”

Why, a degree granted by an accredited university, of course! What other standard of intellectualism has any validity? Are we not all Logo-Realists? Do not the words on that paper define what it means to be an ‘expert’?

Anyway, sad to say, I have do have an associate (a close friend of She Who Is Perfect In All Ways) who has a PhD in ethics and teaches at a university. She was in town recently and was lamenting over the difficulties of career advancement. It seems that she made a big mistake in collaborating in her work, because it seems that if one isn’t the sole author on a paper, how can the rest of the field tell if you did any of the work?

The impliciations of that passed me by the first time, because I generally write off anything academic to the general lunacy that seems to govern its rules, but think of the irony of the field of professional ethics that its members do not trust each other to be accurate about paper authorship, not to mention the clear discouragement of cooperation in the field. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a professional ethicist going on about trust and cooperating.

09 July 2006

Damning with faint praise

Via Brothers Judd is an article in which President Bush praises special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. One is left wondering if this isn’t part of a plan to discredit Fitzgerald and help bury his investigation. Previous attempts of this nature involved attacking the prosecutor and that didn’t work well. Now, however, because of the widespread occurence of Bush Derangement Syndrome, Bush can simpy say nice things about Fitzgerald which in turn will lead the MAL to despite Fitzgerald and run a villificatio campaign against him. Bush looks nice to the non-deranged, Fitzgerald gets slimed, and the moonbats move on to some other “outrage”. All the hallmarks of a Rovian psy-op.

06 July 2006

AOG's Law of Conversational Loss

A friend of mine rang me up to encourage me to read some book by former President Jimmy Carter, apparently not realizing that I consider Carter a bad president and bad ex-president of the highest order. I also find his personal qualities rather dubious given his personal embrace of some of the worst mass murdering thugs on the planet (e.g., Kim Jong Il, Yassir Arafat).

In any event, the conversation went down hill from there into a discussion on the imminent fascist dictatorship of President Bush. The argument ended with the contention that if I didn’t think Bush was crushing democracy in the USA, then I must think he should be canonized. Any middle ground was simply inconceivable.

I have encountered this reaction before, on various lefty weblogs suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, but this was my first personal experience. Thinking back on it, I realize that the “monster or saint” technique is a clear indication that the person offering it is completely out of arguments and has no recourse except to go for broke. I think from now on, when I encounter this, I will explicitly make that claim and see if I can get any heads to explode. If nothing else, I will be able to define it as a moral victory for myself and if I feel that way, what other evidence would I need?

Yes, you can have too much spin

For no good reason, here’s a set of pictures of a bad rocket launch. It was flash pan ignition cluster and I was the LCO who pushed the button. It was not, however, my rocket. It was designed to spin but it looks like the spin got a bit out of control.

05 July 2006

The ugly middle ground

As the Israeli action in Gaza continues, it seems to me that the Israelis are finding the worst possible response to the problem.

As many have noted with regard to dictatorships, the worst thing to be is somewhat oppressive. Such a stance creates anger but not enough fear and the result is disaster for the rulers. Although Israel is a democracy, the same mechanisms operate among the Palestinians. Israel hits at them, hard enough to hurt and create anger, but not hard enough to serve as sufficiently strong disincentive. This not only makes the cost of attacks against Israel low enough to be sustainable, but also implies a long term victory, if that’s the worst Israel can do (it’s not, of course, but the impression is created that it is).

As I noted almost exactly a year ago, Israel does not seem psychologically able to respond to Palestinian agression in a way that would resolve the issue. It wouldn’t even have to be real war making in Gaza — giving some 500 lb high speed responses to the Hamas leadership would work. And my other point holds as well, that without a clear discussion of how to deal with continuing violence even after a de facto Palestinian state, Israel would be stuck just as it is now, unable to act in a truly responsive way.

Eventually, I expect the Palestinians to create the resolution, by finally managing to do something so atrocious that even the Israels will drop the big hammer on them.

For the children

Just One Minute has some reports on how the illegal immigration debate is shifting towards enforcement first.

This reminded me of the guest worker program and one of the counter arguments, that we’d end up with second class citizens as Germany and Japan have. I realized that no, that wouldn’t happen here, because if nothing else the children of those guest workers would be American citizens. In fact, I have often thought that we should do that more explicitly, and rather than allowing in immigrants, allow their children. So, if you move here, you can get a green card and permanent residence, but it is your children that become full citizens.

That’s probably a bit too restrictive, but it does seem it would have an excellent selection effect on who migrates here.

Staying with a winning plan

I heard on NPR this morning about how North Korea had “ignored warnings” about testing its missiles. I laughed out loud, because why wouldn’t the DPRK ignore warnings? When has ignoring warnings ever turned out badly for the DPRK? South Korea didn’t stop food shipments, they just announced that maybe they would think about maybe stopping them. The DPRK is now stealing trains from China. The Chinese send in aid shipments on trains, and the DPRK sends back just the crew. I suspect in that case the train stealing will be stopped, but I will bet a chunk of cash that the DPRK gets to keep the already stolen trains, which would seem to be a win for an apparently crazy policy.

04 July 2006

Neo-conservatives are just the flip side

As I watched one of the Independence Day parade floats with its “USA out of Iraq” and “End the Occupation” banners, I was struck by how much that movement resembles the isolationist movement of the late 1930s.

  • There is the complete disregard of any consequences and focus only on immediate and direct costs.
  • The belief (if for different reasons) that America is / can be immune to the squabbles of other nations
  • The claims of our leaders being sell outs to corporate interests.
  • The fascist air about the beneficiaries of their protests, and a strain of barely repressed admiration for our enemies and their clarity.

Those isloations didnt’ win then, and I don’t think that the neo-isolationists will win now, because their platform is not even the jingoistic “America First!” but “America will finish last”. At least the previous generation of isolations feared America losing, whereas the current generation fears American winning.

Happy Independence Day

Americana on Parade

Flags, tractors, immigrants, parades — I love the USA

More digging

One last hit on “the subject” before I go to sleep: when the MAL looks at the situation in Iraq, they reaction seems to be “it’s bad, but we know how to make it worse”, which seems to be the new theme. Now and then it comes up here or at Brothers Judd about MAL and past versions of socialism, and whether they are any different. This, I think, is one key difference. The Old Left may have made things worse, but they were willing to act and do in the service of their goas. The MAL, in contrast, seems to have been taken over by the couch potato generaton, where if it’s an effort, abandon it and hope for the best. Is it an effect of narcissism, materialism, or just the fallout from an ideology that failed the test of reality?

03 July 2006

Not even good lies

How can I write about something without having two related thoughts?

The other thing that occurs to me that is when then President Nixon sold out the South Vietnamese, he had to disguise it as victory, “peace with honor”, for basically the reasons enumerated in the previous post. He was aided in this because the North Vietnamese regime were materialists and willing to do what it took to win in the real world, even if it meant putting out the kind of feel-good propaganda the chatterati so love, to the extent that Senator Kerry couldn’t see any difference between the North and South. This made the sell-out easy to package as a win.

Now, however, the other side in Iraq is a bunch of thugs of the lowest order, who enjoy the violence itself without regard to its objective efficacy. They therefore make no effort to disguise what they do, or even excuse it much. You can’t package the Caliphascists in Iraq as “Minute Men” who will bring about a worker’s paradise of love and equality. We all know the MAL has tried, but the objects of their efforts simply don’t care because they’re nihilists and loonies, not hard core communists.

Even there, it’s not clear that the Nixon spin would work again, since we’ve seen what really happens after you turn a nation over to a communist dictatorship. Perhaps the Caliphascists aren’t quite so dumb, and have realized this as well and don’t waste their time on pointless effort (which would make them smarted than the MAL).

I think that this inablity to paint a nice picture of the other side is a significant part of why the “declare victory and go home” technique hasn’t worked and recenty hasn’t even been tried. But the MAL can’t adjust because they’ve spun themselves such a cocoon that they can’t see the difference between surrender and the facade needed to seel it.

Maybe you should ask Osama about strong and weak horses

I read posts like this which take the viewpoint that surrender and defeat are better than any military losses and only I can think, “Americans will tolerate a lot of screw ups by their leaders, but they don’t forgive surrender, and these people wonder why they lose elections”. It’s very odd that the promoters of such a line of thought don’t think of it as surrender, but what else can it be called?

That may be because such elements of the MAL simply cannot grasp the concept of American victory at arms, having had their world view set in unbreakable Vietnamese concrete. If that were true, if it were a priori impossible for America to win a war, then it would make sense to abandon the field as fast as possible. Unluckily for the MAL, a platform based on the view that America can never win against anyone willing to fight back is not one that resonates with the voting public. What remains stunning is the MAL’s belief that it would, if only they could communicate it more clearly.

The author of the post cannot fathom why the Bush regime thinks that the war in Iraq is a winning issue. It’s not because the war has been handled well, or even that it’s going well1, but that punching up the issue highlights the points enumerated above.

Debating the war also highlights the apparent lack even of desire to win on the part of the MAL (which is likely a symptom of their unwinnable world view). Over at Lean Left is a classic example, where, when challenged to define the Long War and what victory conditions would look like, responded

I think Bush’s moves are not required for success and in fact hinder our efforts so I feel no compulsion to give him an out.

No details of a better plan, not even the claim of having a better plan, but outright “I’d rather lose than help the President”. Gosh, why wouldn’t people vote for a party with that attitude?

1 This brings up another failure of the MAL, which is to exclude the middle ground where a war can not fail but no go so well, instead being a grinding, slow progression. For the MAL, it’s either instaneous, bloodless victory or defeat in a quagmire.

In my view, that war hasn’t been handled well, but about average for how wars are waged by Presidents of the USA. Bush has done some dumb things, but on the other hand he hasn’t given away Eastern Europe to the Soviets or thought that the League of Nations will put an end to war. It’s really bizarre to hear complaints of casualties due to Bush’s incompetence and then a few hours later hear a retrospective on the Battle of the Somme.

Me? I'm gonna fly some rockets

Happy Independence Day!

02 July 2006

Weblogs: the ruination of books

This post by Big Arm Woman is about her inability to sit through bad movies, but it reminded me of my own recent experiences with not enjoying books as I used to (I have long since lost the unoccupied stretches of time necessary to watch a movie).

I think it’s writing this weblog (and being a comment contributor elsewhere) that has made it much more difficult to enjoy books. My online experience has taught me to remember details better and more automatically note contradictions and logical errors. It’s exactly the sort of thing that makes snark and sniping so much more effective but it can really ruin a novel.


For instance, I recently read Resurgence. I did not enjoy it as much as earlier books in the series (which I read before I spent so much time onine) and I think it stems for obsessing about certain plot errors instead of just cutting the author some slack.

The biggest problem is that Sheffield gave himself the “transporter problem”, where a super technology is invented to cover some other issue or just to be cool and the writer then has the problem of explaining why it isn’t used in obvious ways to solve problems for the characters. In this case the characters have super-tech spacesuits which can withstand direct contact with milli-Kelvin environments and “even return to orbit” if necessary. This leads to scenes which were intended to be tense but came across as boring.

In one, the characters are exploring a low gravity super-cold planet when they are attacked by a deadly mist. In the end, one character is killed and the ship permanenty damaged by the mist. The entire time I was reading I was wondering “why don’t they just jump off the planet, if it’s so low gravity?”. Or use the suit boost capability?

Another incident involves them being on a planet in the process of being chilled. This is again supposed to be scary but given that they’ve already explored a super-chilled planet in the suits, what’s the big deal if it cools while they are on it? The fact that the ship can’t land because of the wild weather from the condensing atmosphere is makes sense, but why can’t they boost to orbit and get scooped up by the ship?

If this were the only book I would just blame the author, but I have noticed myself doing it much more than in the past. On the other hand, it could be that I am just becoming the grumpy old man that was always inside me, waiting to come out.

It would be improper to ape the colonials

Via Brothers Judd is a report that the Tories want to restrict the powers of Scottish members of Parliament. The issue is that local policies in Scotland are determined by the Scottish Parliament, but local issues in England are determined by the UK Parliament. This means Scottish MPs get to vote on Engish policies but English MPs don’t get a vote on Scottish policies.

The Scotts don’t seem too happy about this, but it is a natural consequence of Scottish devolution. On the other hand, it does seem a rather convulted way to solve the problem. It seems better to me to follow the logic all the way through and devolve power on to an English Parliament, on the same terms it was done in Scotland. I wonder if that wasn’t done because the end result would be the equivalent of the “United States of Britian”, a set of local parliaments controlling local issues with a federal / UK parliament handling national issues (such as national defense, foreign relations, etc.). Probably that’s too Anglo-Saxon for the UK.