29 September 2006

You're blocking my view

[A sycophant suggested that I promote and expand one of my comments on another post, so here it is]

Americans love their entertainment and comfort. This is often interpreted as weakness by other cultures, but such people have never stood between an American and his TV with the Big Game playing. We like our entertainment so much that we’ll kill anyone who persistently stops us from enjoying it. Americans won’t fight and die for a standard of living, but we sure as heck will slaughter foreigners for it.

A helping hand, not a hand out

I wasn’t going to weigh in on the latest descent in to Islamo-paranoia by Dean Esmay, because it’s too insider oriented for a gossip like me and, frankly, Esmay is so irrational on the subject as to be unreadable and I concur with those who think he does more harm than good with his efforts (which, of course, is morbidly funny in an ironic way).

But I couldn’t avoid it, the subject is all over the weblogs I read regularly and I am too much the conformist to resist. So I will rant on two points in the entire debate about the future of Islam and its relationship to liberal democracy.

The first is the basic “Islam as ethnicity” confusion that seeps in so many places. Esmay leads with it in his post and then Instapundit links to a post lamenting divisions in the blogosphere on the subject. It uses this trope in the following statement —

Indeed; if we are at war with Islam, we have no business rebuilding Iraq and trying to help establish democracy; we should be leveling the place and populating it with Americans.

I somehow missed that happening at the end of the Cold War, when we leveled Poland and re-populated with Americans to make it non-Communist. This is extra funny because the author uses the Communism analogy earlier in the very same paragraph.

The other trope is one I have complained about in the past which is the denial of moral agency to Muslims. Esmay’s view seems to be that it is primarily (if not entirely) the Anglosphere’s actions in foreign policy that determines if there is going to be an anti-Islamic war. That’s completely backwards — if there is going to be a war, it will because Islam declared war on everyone else. If there isn’t, it will be because Islam decided to accomodate itself to the continued existence of a non-Islamic sphere1. To claim otherwise is to once again infantilize Muslims.

I think it may well be that underlying concept that annoys me most about Esmay and those who take his point of view. Sure, we should try to help those inside Islam trying to pick the accomodation option, but in the end it is not our responsibility. It is not we, in the Dar al-Harb, who can decide. It is not we who will pay the price for failure.

There is also the arrogance of presuming that we, here in the Anglosphere, should decide who is a moderate Muslim, that we should decide what are the “correct” tendencies within Islam. I think it’s time we simply expected Muslims to take of that themselves.

I can’t help but think of Islam as an unruly teenager. The best option for changing such in to a mature adult is not indulgence but firmness and a clear setting of rules along with appropriate punishments. The best example of the USA doing this in practice is our treatment of the Hamas government in Palestine. The message is “do as you like and accept the consequences”. My view is that any other stance is dehumanizing.

I also dislike the over-eagerness of many of the “pro-moderate Muslim” advocates, which fosters a shirking of responsiblity by Muslims. Why should they bother if it is our duty to locate, encourage, and promoted “moderates”? I believe that one of the primary dysfunctions of Arab / Islamic culture is a lack of personal responsibility, the idea that whatever happens is someone else’s problem to fix2. We don’t need to be encouraging that attitude. It’s a form of cultural welfare and I don’t think it will work out any better.

Moreover, the over-eagerness leads to another counter-productive result, which is a long string of putative moderates who turn out, upon close examination, to be hostile to the values of the American Street, which discredits the very concept of Islamic moderate.

So what is my stance? Simply that we in the Anglosphere state forthrightly that we are who we are and Muslims can accept those ways to become part of our community, leave us alone to go their own way, or die fighting a war with us. That this decision is ultimately one Islam has to make, that we can’t make it for them. We should reach out and support Muslims who work for a path to a non-violent resolution in trust but also verification. That we are willing to help (as we have in Afghanistan and Iraq) but that we can only help. That absent a real effort inside Islam, eventually the American Street will get tired of helping and become indifferent, unleashing the real ugliness that still lives here.


1 By “Islam” I mean the overall actions of Muslims. “There are many strains in Islam, yadda yadda” — I understand that. But if the term “Islam” and “Muslim” is to have any meaning at all, there must be some common core to Islam and some unity of Muslims. Otherwise, why am I not a Muslim too? Just as I cannot escape association with America and its actions because I am a citizen, short of changing my citizenship, a Muslim cannot escape association with Islam (nor Islam with the summed actions of Muslims). These are, of course, fuzzy concepts but everything’s fuzzy at that memetic layer.

2 This is another reason I expect Islam to end up on the dustbin of history. A religion whose very name means “Submission” would seem to be one that encourages exactly this sort of dysfunction. It also fits in with my theme that Islam’s problem isn’t being directly broken, but broken in that it lacks recovery mechanism when things go wrong.

25 September 2006

Those who repeat history are doomed to learn it

There is a lot to be said for the point of view that dredging up the Clinton years with regard to fighting the Caliphascists is pointless, as it represents what economists call a sunk cost. Normally I would agree that it’s a fine subject for historians but not particularly relevant politically. However, it is not the GOP that is stuck in that past but the Democratic Party which wants to implement basically the same policies again. That is what makes it relevant. To this day the Democratic Party powers cannot admit that former President Clinton’s policies were sub-optimal, much less wrong.

I think the reason for this is the same reason the Democratic Party is stuck in the past on most issues — it’s not the admission of error but the fear of having to create a new policy. This makes the Clinton bashing useful if it is tied back to present day policies espoused by the Democratic Party.

I think the best example of this is the “law enforcement paradigm” offered by such Democratic Party luminaries as Senator John Kerry. The history of the Clinton Administration is a good antidote to the claimed utility of such a policy.

Another that is close is the idea that it is President Bush’s policies that are boosting Al Qaeda and other Caliphascist organzations. It is useful to note that Al Qaeda went from a minor annoyance to perpetrating the largest terror attack in the USA on President Clinton’s watch. The point isn’t to bash Clinton but to bash the idea that it is only an aggressive response like Bush’s that recruits and empowers such organizations.

Finally, I can’t help but enjoy the spectacle of the Democratic Party being hoisted on its own petard. It is their hysterical reaction that has put this subject back on the front burner and it is especially funny coming from a party that has spent so much time bashing Bush for not owning up to mistakes.

24 September 2006

Action figure literature

So I get trapped this evening in to repeatedly changing the clothes on Girl Three’s Bitty Baby, Girl Three having decided reading statistical abstracts wasn’t doing it for her.

The experience was not the most mentally challenged I task I have performed, leaving my mind to wander over the difference between “dolls” and “action figures”. I have decided that it’s a matter of inner life. If there is some presumed complex internal mental state, then it’s a doll. If it servers merely as an anchor for external activities or objects, then it’s an action figure.

For instance, the Bitty Baby is concerned about her outfit and whether she has had a good nap recently. The Luke Skywalker action figure serves as prop to justify the star fighter flying around the house blasting everything in sight. The question for the latter is always “how many enemy ships did you blow up?” never “are you sure you feel comfortable in that hat?”.

I think this extends to adulthood as well and serves to distinguish “chick lit” from the good stuff, such as science fiction. As an action figure kind of person, I consider characters in a novel as simply necessary accoutrements to enable a plot with lots of cool gadgetry, the same way an action figure enables the use of automatic weapons and large explosive devices. Therefore I like science fiction. I don’t like modern fiction because it strikes me as exciting and interesting as the outfit changes I inflict on the Bitty Baby at Girl Three’s command.

Comparison shopping

One of the tropes that I harp upon with regard to WWIV is the denial of agency on the part of any one except the USA / Anglosphere by many of the critics and Caliphascist fellow travelers. Via Winds of Change is a typical variant of this.

It is, of course, legitimate to wonder about the effects on the opinions of the ummah of American foreign policy. The illegitimacy comes from writing as if Caliphascist actions have no equivalent effect. I.e., the Muslim Street would decide on its policies by judging American behavior only. That has always seemed a rather strong presumption that requires strong proof, but I have yet to see any presentation of evidence to support it. My view is that it is an artifact of an underlying anti-Americanism or just anti-GOP sentiment, not the result of even a shallow analysis.

Now, there has been some evidence around to be cited, such as amount of outrage over minor issues such as the so-called “mo-toons” or Pope Benedicts recent statements, in contrast to the lack of outrage over the wholesale slaughter of Muslims in Sudan and Iraq1.

Yet perhaps we are seeing the (typically) slow movement of public opinion on the Muslim Street. The outrage over Benedict’s remarks, while wide spread, seems particularly shallow. It demonstrates an increasing reliance on professional efforts at inciting rather than any organic rage. It is a reason to have some cautious optimism that perhaps the Muslim world is starting to realize that accomodation to the West is in its own best interests, not just a Zionist plot.


1 Of course, there’s a bit of pot and kettle here, as the Anglosphere still has quite a large reserve of fondness for Socialism, despite the legacy of immiseration, oppression, and terror it has left in its wake. Is the attraction of Caliphascism for the ummah really that much different?

Planes of obscurity

Instapundit recommends an essay by Dean Barnett. It’s an OK essay, but I found this bit amusing —

16) Okay. Let’s say I start tomorrow, and blog well and frequently and all that crap. How long will it take me to break through?

Can’t say for sure. But I will tell you this – I don’t think there are any bloggers who have done it well and consistently for a period of a couple of years and not found an audience.

Yo, here’s one! I would hardly claim that my prose is of the deathless quality of Rudyard Kipling, but I think it’s at least decent. It’s also been more than a couple years. I would like to think that I have been singled out for unjust punishment in this regard (it feeds my natural paranoid tendencies) but I expect that my situation is more common than not. Of course Barnett would not have heard of any such weblogs precisely because they have not “broken through”. My view is that there is a massive oversupply of writing talent in the blogosphere and it’s actually quite easy to be good and obscure indefinitely.

As fun as sniping is, though, this is a nice segue in to another post I have been meaning to write about this one at Right Wing News about female webloggers using physical attractiveness to boost readership1. I basically agree with Hawkins, which is it’s a free market of ideas and content and it’s hard to say “well, that’s unfair” about much of anything. I certainly prefer the mild titillation of that sort to the political pornography that’s propelled much of the popularity of the socialist weblogs.

The standard counter argument is that weblogs should be about good writing, not good cleavage. But that brings us back to the original point, which is the oversupply of good writing. it is typical and expected that in such a saturated market, consumer choices will be based on apparently minor and even unrelated qualities such as that because the primary qualities are true for all choices. Why not good writing and good cleavage, if that option is available? It’s very similar to the problem of getting in to Harvard or an academic position. If you have 500 qualified candidates for a position, you end up selecting the winner on some rather obscure criteria.

If you believe, as Barnett does, that any moderately talented weblogger can get an audience, then this makes no sense. But, if, like me, you believe that there are far more moderately talented webloggers than readers to read them, then it’s quite a different situation.


1 I will weigh in on the original Althouse vs. Jessica controversy with the view that I never understood Althouse’s point. The ony legitimate criticism IMHO was the causual dress, but she was hardly the only one who was underdressed.

22 September 2006

Stealing the thunder

Transterrestrial Musings has some first hand reporting on a private orbital hotel due to deploy by 2010. I find this particularly interesting because NPR had a story on in the last day or two about the “resumed momentum” by NASA for completing the ISS. I immediately wondered “if you’ve lost momentum before, why won’t you lose it again this time?”. The NASA spokesman also made the claim to that NASA was building the first long term space habitat. Well, apparently not because ISS isn’t going to be ready by 2010.

P.S. There is some further serendipity, as I had just tweaked OJ about the contrast of his NASA boosterism with his mocking of Airbus. Apparently it’s simply an a priori fact that “our boondoggle good, their boondoggle bad”.

It's a philosophical response

Lean Left has a rant against Wal-Mart which contains the usual emotion over logic talking points, but rather than deal with those I will hit a couple of larger points (because, after all, I like to think big thoughts).

The smaller point is that this whole episode is another illustration of my view that the unions are making themselves irrelevant by outsourcing their worker protections to the government. What is the benefit of supporting a union instead of a political action committee if the way the union benefits the worker is to get legislation passed? At least you can stop giving money to the PAC if it stops being effective.

The other big thought is from this passage in the post —
The big-hearted progressives on Chicago’s City Council, evidently unconcerned that the city gets zero sales tax revenues from a half a billion dollars that Chicago residents spend in the 42 suburban Wal-Marts, have passed a bill that, by dictating wages and benefits, would keep Wal-Marts from locating in the city. Richard Daley, a bread-and-butter Democrat, used his first veto in 17 years as mayor to swat it away.
More Democrats tried to force Wal-Mart to pay a living wage when it can hire workers below the poverty line in a disastrous labor market; luckily, a bread-and-butter Democrat agreed to allow them to pay their workers so little they can’t buy bread and butter.
which completely misses the point. Note that there are no Wal-Marts in Chicago. Thatmakes the law a philosophical one because it would be a pure statement of intent with no real world effect. It would raise the theoretical pay of theoretical workers without helping anybody in the real world. That makes sense, after all, it’s the theoretical workers who show up at the A-list parties of the chatterati.
Faith vs. Reason

Dean’s World notes that Bushco is once again running its standard pre-election blitzkieg and the MAL is yet again caught by surprise. I, for one, am not surprised by either development.

It’s yet another example of how it’s not that the GOP has earned a victory, but that the Democratic Party has set itself up to lose. There are some who wonder how the MAL can do this every two years, but consider their basic political views. Does those not demonstrate a strong case of reality dysfunction? Why should they do any better in adjusting their views to account for electoral reality than they do for economic reality? After all, they have faith in their view of fundamental reality and surely that trumps any amount of reasoning about how things work.

20 September 2006

UN-diplomatic

Via Brothers Judd we have this bit of reporting hilarity

Those who expected [US President] Bush to show a bit of humility - Annan was definitely one; last week he summed up his Middle East visit by saying that almost all the region’s leaders agreed that the US intervention in Iraq was an unmitigated disaster - were fated to be deeply disappointed.

Oh yeah, when you publically call out a leader like that, what can you expect except humility, contritition, and adherence to your own point of view? Yet people talk about Bush’s lack of diplomatic skills.

19 September 2006

Learning from others

I find it interesting that in the case of Maher Arar, who was alledgedly falsely arrested as a terrorist and then tortured in Syria, the only blameless party seems to be the thugs in Syria who performed the actual torture. One might argue about how much the USA vs. Canada was to blame, but shouldn’t Syria show up in the blame game somewhere? It does seem to put paid to the claim that if the President Bush gets his way with his re-interpretation of the Geneva Conventions that the USA would become a pariah state because we could just do the same thing as Syria, right?

17 September 2006

No enemies on the Abrahamic

I can’t resist ranting about Orrin Judd going off the rails again in his view of WWIV. The money quote is —

He [Pope Benedict XVI] wasn’t wrong about Islam, but about Christianity. We’re crusading there—they aren’t jihading here. […] We’re overthrowing their regimes and dictating the terms of their new orders according to our standards.

It’s another illustration of how Judd is really a Leftist, with a few polarities reversed. Just as it’s a big mistake to view the current conflict as being completely secular, it’s wrong to think of it in purely religious terms. American foreign policy tends stongy to the morally pragmatic, i.e. doing good that is good for the USA. The idea that we invaded Iraq as a crusade is wrong in two major respects.

First is that apparent view that the USA changed the regime Iraq simply because the Ba’ath regime was evil. One need only look at all the other evil regimes around the planet that we ignore (particulary in Africa — consider Sudan and Zimbabwe). The entire run up to the war involved discussion of whether the Ba’ath regime was a threat to the USA and what kind of threat. That’s not kind of talk that’s used on a moral crusade. The evil of the regime took a clear back seat. It may that President Bush acted out of purely moral considerations, but unless that is the public basis of his arguments (which it wasn’t) it’s an irrelevancy.

Second is the related point that the fundamental basis for the current war is the aggression of the Islamic world. Had the Middle East left the USA alone and just sold us oil, we would have tolerated just about any sort of regime (a moment’s thought of our relationship with the Saudi Entity demonstrates this). It is only when actions such as invading an American ally (Kuwait - note how we handled the Iran-Iraq war in contrast) or attacks on Americans (I think something went on a few years ago on 11 Sep which might be related). This is a particuarly hilarious point of view for Judd to take, as he posts repeated on the “pre-11 Sep attitude” of the MAL. That attack demonstrated nothing about the morality of the regimes we are now fighting, only that they were a danger to the USA. Any change of attitude would stem domestic security issues, not crusading moralism.

This is not to say that the American Street doesn’t like a good dose of crusading mixed in with its power politics. But even if moralism is the engine, domestic security is the ignition system.

I think this is all an artifact of Judd being unable to accept the existence of Shi’ite organzations that are enemies of the USA (e.g., Hizb’allah and the Iranian mullahocracy) and that there is not a moral equivalence between such organizations and the USA. It’s simply his version of “no enemies on the Left”.

Arguing the wrong point

I have to say I must be missing something basic in the latest flap over President Bush wanting to redefine Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. On the whole, I think such redefinition is too much like the “living Constitution” to be a good idea. But what really puzzles me is why this is a subject of discussion at all.

Given the actual text of the Geneva Conventions, why isn’t Bush arguing that these prisoners are not covered by Article 3 at all? It seems to be that there are several strong arguments in that regard:

  1. Article 3 is about “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities”. If prisoners continue to assault their captors, then they’re hardly “taking no active part in the hostilities”.
  2. The language in Article 3 only applies to non-combatnts or members of armed forces who have stopped fighting. Those prisoners in question do not fall in to either classification.
  3. Al Qaeda and its ilk are not “High Contracting Parties” because they have not signed the Geneva Conventions and do not make even a pretense of following them. The relevant text is from Article 2 —
    Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof.

I think Bush should have asked for a law that declares that members of Al Qaeda and other resistance groups in Iraq are war criminals and therefore outside the bounds of Article 3 for one or all of the above reasons. I think the American Street would be fine with our government saying “we’ll play by the rules if the other side does, but if they don’t we’ll do what we have to”. It accords well with the three levels of Jacksonianism.

15 September 2006

Just what I wanted for Christmas

Junk email just continues to get weirder. I got this one today —

Biogenous silica pellets and flakes for Ladle Insulation

We manufacture pellets and flakes made of biogenous silica.

These pellets are used in steel mills for insulation of hot metal in ladle, tundish and slab caster.

Please feel free to drop us a line for your requirements.

I netsearched a bit but sadly it looks like this is a fake product. It sounded wonderfully specialized.

14 September 2006

Approximate math

Elsewhere in educational news I read that basics are back for math. I suppose we’ll see how long this fad lasts, and if there is any interest by the educrats to check up on its efficacy in educating students (as opposed to generated educrat jobs).

One place that I have dealt with personally recently (and therefore of immense importance) is that of estimating.
The 1989 standards tried to promote understanding of math concepts by downplaying “right answers” in favor of estimation.
For example, an elementary-school student tackling the problem 4,783 divided by 13 should instead divide 4,800 by 12 to arrive at “about 400,” the 1989 report said. The council said this approach would enable children using calculators to “decide whether the correct keys were pressed and whether the calculator result is reasonable.”
Clearly the emphasis in math should be about obtaining the correct answer. However, I have some sympathy for this view because estimating is a very powerful skill that should be taught as well. It should, however, be taught as ancillary to pencil and paper (or purely mental) arithmetic as well. It would help produce citizens would be somewhat less susceptible to the kind of propadanda that floats around these days. So much of it doesn’t survive this kind of quick and easy “order of magnitude” check. Expecting people to do problems like 4783 / 13 in their heads, or whip out a calculator, in unrealistic. I think it’s somewhat more realistic to expect that, having been taught how to do rough estimates in their heads, they might do that and realize “wow, that can’t be right”.

P.S. I was also attracted to this because it fits in to the discussion of evolution, which can only do the equivalent of rough estimates and if you expect precise answers, you’re using the wrong tool. But even rough estimates have a lot of uses.

Do not count the ducks

Via Joanne Jacobs I find out that the state of Illinois now has 172 learning goals for kindergarten. One of them, under “Mathematics”, is “Estimate numbers of objects in a set”. This is particularly amusing to me because back when I was a young punk, I spent a lot of time on the PLATO educational computer system at UIUC. One of the lessons that achieved internal notoriety was about exactly that subject, estimating the cardinality of sets. It used ducks, leading to a catch phrase “do not count the ducks!”. I still laugh, but you had to be there.

P.S. I should probably read through the list because Boy Two is starting kindergarten in Illinois this year.

13 September 2006

Approximately

I have been thinking on and off about evolutionary theory since this post, which I think set a record for comments. It struck me when I read this post that it would serve as the basis for a proper critique of modern evolutionary theory (as opposed to the non-sensical one I complained about in my earlier post).

The basic gist of Howard’s post is that social science suffers from its simultaneous desire to emulate the precision of the physical sciences and its inability to do so because of the complexity of its units of study. I.e., electrons can be completely characterized by a small set of properties all of which can described with reliably measured numeric values1. In contrast, people are the units of the social sciences and they have few properties that are as quantifiable and no important ones that are. Attempts to treat social science as if it could be done like physics leads to bad science.

It seems to me that both strong evolutionists and detractors both treat evolutionary theory in this incorrect way, that it is deterministic and complete (i.e. has an explanation for any physical feature). In practice, due to the complexity of the basic units, evolutionary theory has neither of these properties. It is a statistical theory, one in which things are more and less probable but nothing is ever certain2.

Critics attempt to discredit evolutionary theory by citing counter examples or improbabilities, but of course those are mere evidence, not disproofs (and generally weak evidence at that). The pressure of evolution isn’t the hard, intense pressure of how we humans do things, but a slow and patient one. That shouldn’t be surprising, since evolution is part of Nature and that’s how Nature does things. Evolutionary pressure cannot operate on time scales much smaller than a generation, since reproduction is the central engine of the process and that’s a rather slow time scale.

On the other hand, I see quite a few “supporters” of evolutionary theory make the same mistake, which leads to some of the rather silly “just so” stories mocked at Brothers Judd. It’s random, sometimes odd things just happen for no good reason. It doesn’t have to explain everything and it certainly doesn’t have to explain every little aspect of every little detail of every creature.

Just as annoyingly, very often even valid evolutionary theory is presented in a teleological manner, which of course is wrong (evolution isn’t teleological, it’s random). E.g., “the environment got colder so the rabbits evolved longer fur”. Uh, no3. Perhaps it’s just too hard to avoid anthropomorphizing but it certainly doesn’t help present an accurate view of the actual theory.

Overall, though, I don’t worry about it much. Surveys of how few people believe in evolutionary theory don’t concern me. Normal people don’t really need to know or believe it to get through life, even if it’s true. There are so many other wells of ignorance in the general population that one must either give up or accept that we can survive such4. It’s not even clear that it can be properly taught, except in catch phrases, to students in primary education (especially not if we are currently failing to teach them simple algebra, grammar, and basic history). It does provide some nice, soft, rhetorical targets from time to time which is my reason for wading in.


1 There’s a serious physical theory that this is because there is only one electron, we just see it a lot. When it goes back in time, it is percieved as anti-matter, but if you trace out every collision in the history of the universe, you see that in the end it’s all the same particle. Although there’s no obvious reason in physics that couldn’t be true, it remains a non-mainstream theory.

2 This makes arguments via the Second Law of Thermodynamics amusing, because the law actually reads

the total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value [emphasis added]

Thermodynamics is also a statistical science and so it has no certainties either, not even the increase of entropy. Few people that I see use this Law, for good or ill, seem to grasp this point.

3 “The decrease in average temperatures created a preferential survival rate for long hair rabbits which, over the course of a number of generations, lead to a predominance of long hair rabbits”. The dryness of this may explain the anthropomorphizing, but it also ties in to the later point of trying to teach this kind of abstract theory as basic science.

4 Look at all the people who believe in Socialism, when it doesn’t even comport with their personal experience and knowledge of the world. That’s why it has to be sold by “experts”.

Imposing externalities

I got involved in a discussion on the concensus on global warming. I knew I shouldn’t bait the fanatics but my snark overcame my better sense.

The basis of the issue in question was the (apparently) approving quote

The way I understand things, journalistic balance does not require giving equal time to those who argue, for example, that HIV does not cause AIDS, or smoking does not cause lung disease. Anyone who argues that CO2 does not cause global warming is, pretty much by definition, unqualified to pass judgment on the latest scientific findings. Why reporters have continued to quote these people as if they had a claim to scientific objectivity, I’m not sure.

Based on a number of data points (such as this one) I remain skeptical of a concensus so strong that it denies any shred of scientific objectivity to those who dispute it. It seems that there is plenty of lack of scientific rigor on the other side, such as bad statistical techniques and a strong unwillingness to share data in central bits of evidence.

The quote above is typical, where the fact that CO2 has properities that make it a green house gas mean that increasing CO2 levels automatically mean global warming. I doubt either the original author nor the poster has any idea of the physical mechanism involved, or they wouldn’t make such silly statements. In fact, carbon dioxide acts as an insulator and as anyone who has worked on houses knows, there is a maximal effective amount of insulation you can have. At a certain point, adding more has no practical effect, regardless of how good the added insulation is. It may be that we are not at that point with carbon dioxide, but that’s a very separate issue. The statements “carbon dioxide causes global warming” and “more carbon dioxide would cause more global warming” are not at all the same and it just sets me off when people implicitly conflate them and then claim it’s the other side that’s scientifically illiterate.

Of course, in the end the poster disavowed the comment (“not my opinion, even if I quoted it”) and then thought it bizarre to bring up the Kyoto Protocol. Here I had thought that the Kyoto Protocols were the central effort of those concerned about AGW. It is a major reason that, IMHO, the balance of “err on the side of caution” goes to the “let’s not worry yet” side of the AGW debate. To simply wave it away as irrelevant is a rather unrealistic point of view.

P.S. I would be remiss to not mention one argument against GW which I find very silly but often used, to wit “how can they predict long term climate if they can’t tell whether it will rain tomorrow?”. In fact, it is typical of complex systems that long term, general behavior is far easier to predict than short term specific behavior. For example, meterologists do much better about predicting seasonal rain fall totals than how much it will rain tomorrow. Or it’s easier to tell how much a stock price will change in a decade than a day. There is always noise and uncertainty, but averaging data and predictions ameloriates that problem.

Local war and foreign butter

It seems clear to me what to make of this little tidbit

The move [the “unity” government] is a retreat by Hamas under pressure of international sanctions imposed after it swept to victory in elections in January.

which is that the only thing holding Hamas accountable are foreign governments. Hamas’ current political difficulties are not about the economy per se, but purely about the flow of foriegn money. Certainly there didn’t seem to be much objection to Hamas’ war making while that money rolled in. What the Palestinians seem to want is war and prosperity, just like American voters want tax cuts and government spending. I see no evidence of any expectation that Hamas would manage the local economy well, only that they would skim foreign aid somewhat less while making war on Israel somewhat more. The only force for peace in the situation is a purely external one.

Numbers vs. shapes

While some consider this hopefull —

Iran’s confidential response three weeks ago to an international proposal over its nuclear program offered extensive negotiations to resolve the standoff, but only if proceedings against Iran in the U.N. Security Council were stopped.

it seems to me that this is simply arguing about the shape of the discussion table in order to delay any resolution. For what reason should we beleive that after several months of the new negotiations, the Iranian regime won’t simply tack back and offer to negotiate with the UN if the bilateral talks are stopped? After all, a Supreme Leader who thinks setting Israel on fire is the first order of business for Iran because

Iran’s stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon [Israel]. We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region

doesn’t seem believable when he claims to not want nuclear weapons.

12 September 2006

Plenty more where they came from

At Strategy page is an article on the attrition of Taliban forces in Afghanistan, as NATO continues to smash Taliban forces. Strategy Page is unclear on what the Taliban think they’re doing in throwing units at NATO just to have them get smashed up.

Personally, I lean toward either

  1. They’re desperate with two subclauses which are not mutually exclusive
    1. NATO’s slow advance is beginning to really hurt and a desperate counter-attack is better than surrender, especially if it’s only raw recruits who do the dieing
    2. The Taliban are caught in a ideological trap where to not fight is to lose the credibility that sustains them in the hinterlands.
  2. There’s a lot of profit in the attacks for the organizers, even if it’s really hard on the combatants. If the attacks (as seems very likely) are supported by external aid, there’s a lot of skimming opportunity.

Given my cynical view of things, if I had to bet on just one of these I would go with the skimming option.

One of Strategy Page’s possible motives is attrition against NATO, in that even at a 100-1 losses, NATO nations will have their will broken before the Taliban, which is not a totally implausible thing to believe.

The article concludes with this —

Considering the heavy losses the Taliban took this year, are their supporters eager for another round in 2007, or are they dismayed and discouraged?

I think it more likely that Mr. Herdegen is right and there is such an over supply of cannon fodder hard boys that the Taliban won’t suffer from attritional effects for a very long time, if ever.

11 September 2006

You can't make this stuff up

I can’t resist taking my own snarks at the whole Path to 9/11 situation. Every time you think the MAL has hit bottom, they invent new digging equipment.

In the week or so before the show, I thought the Clitonista protests were stupid but common variety stupid, the kind of non-introspective emotional reaction to the moment that characterized the entire Clinton years. “Feh!”, I said, “it’s only slightly more interesting than the Brangelina malformed baby story”.

But now we’re seeing comedy gold. The first instance that really struck home with me was via my deep black source which referred to this post by someone who is apparently not a fringe moonbat (since he’s getting the treatment by Ann Althouse). I will conceed to my source that there isn’t one good quote, it’s chock full of flourescent idiocy. Still, this is my favorite —

What else can we do to highlight Disney and ABC’s complicity and duplicity in blackening the names of 3,000 dead Americans? For example, Disney’s involvement with war propaganda during World War II. […] How do we make clear to America that the Disney brand is unpatriotic […] ?

Disney, unpatriotic because they produced WWII propaganda for the Allies? I have been wondering when the internal logic of the MAL would force them to regret “the Good War” and lo, there it is. The idiocy is thinking that exposing Disney’s WWII efforts will contribute to convincing the American Street that Disney is un-patriotic. It would be much easier to do that by pointing out the lack of current pro-American propaganda from the Disney cartoon mill. But good luck with that anti-WWII base for public relations, dude.

The right wing blogosphere has been wondering for years about how to get the American Street to re-examine the years leading up to the attacks, never realizing that the weapon they needed would be forged by the hands of their enemies. I can’t imagine what could possibly have done more in that regard than the current campaign against the movie. But, once again the MAL is caught because it seems incapable of ever dropping any of its ideological baggage (either policies or leaders). In computer science, we would call this “bit-rot”, the point at which a codebase is so riddled with patches, kluges, and special cases, that it is no longer possible to incrementally improve it because any change just makes things worse. Yet the codebase can’t be left alone because it’s incapable of meeting the demands placed upon it.

I think we are seeing the MAL’s ideology hit the bit-rot wall, where they can’t react because that just makes it worse, but they have to react to defend their positions. The solution to codebase bitrot is to junk large sections of the codebase at a time and re-work them from the ground up (something the Conservatives did in the last quarter of the last century). That seems beyond the psychological endurance of the MAL so I can’t see how they get out of the current death-spiral. But it’s fun to watch.

10 September 2006

Creating a cash cow

Via Brothers Judd is this report

“Iran should abandon its plans for nuclear enrichment on its soil,” he [Russian President Validimir Putin] continued. When asked specifically if Russia would support U.S. calls for sanctions, he declined to rule them out.

Obviousy not! The first thing that came to mind upon reading this was “gosh, wouldn’t Russia stand to make a lot of cash by busting sanctions imposed on Iran?”. After all, even I don’t believe that Russian is helping Iran obtain nuclear weapons for some grand geo-political purpose. It’s all about cash flow, regardless of consequences. Slap some internation sanctions on Iran and what happends to Russia?

  • Less oil on the market, raising prices ⇒ more cash for Russian oil
  • Iran might have to ship oil and / or other goods via Russia to sell it ⇒ more cash for Russia via transaction fees
  • Russia violates the sanctions by selling goods with the prices marked up to Iran ⇒ more cash for Russia
  • The mullahocracy becomes even more desperate for Russian technical aid ⇒ more cash for Russia

Putin simply tells the mullahocracy that he had to get in line, but he doesn’t really mean it, as evidenced by the preceeding list of actions Russia will undertake on Iran’s behalf. Russia is effectively operating as a mafia-run state and this seems like something right up their alley.

09 September 2006

Is it a new low or new high?

Some junker set a new record yesterday. He left a comment that tripped thirty seven different filters. That’s impressive. Stupid, but impressive. Such a massive concentration of signatures guarantees that it will trip at least one almost everywhere.

My favorites, though, are the ones that put in things to fool the filters that check for literal text. This is usually done in a way that is, in fact, easy to detect. One guy put long hex strings at the front and back for of his text. The filter for that took all of 20 seconds to write and it’s not the kind of thing that will trip on human generated text. Well, I have to get my amusement where I can.

07 September 2006

Sometimes only the burnt hand teaches

Via Brothers Judd, we have this little tidbit

The P.A.’s employees have launched an open-ended strike — practically rendering the Hamas government dysfunctional. Palestinians are demanding that Hamas compromise to allow international aid into the financially starved West Bank and Gaza.

Note carefully that it’s not a call for any sort of internal development or economic improvement, but all about restarting the external cash flow. It’s another clear example of the thesis I developed in this post. Like petro-dollars, as long as the Palestinians think they can depend on the largess of strangers instead of improving themselves, they will be dysfunctional and unable to support any sort of normal society or government.

Note also that despite all this, Hamas refuses to make even token concessions or stop its war with Israel. The putative “unity government” isn’t an action designed to reconnect Hamas with the people, but a mechanism to shut down democratic accountability by creating what would basically be a one party state.

This is all quite contrary to a certain webloggers view of the natural democrats who are leading Hamas. The key point is that the pressure on Hamas to reform is ultimately external. All the internal pressure would disappear overnight should the previous level of foreign aid be resumed. Those who make the argument that the reason Iraqis and Palestinians haven’t reformed like Japan and Germany is because they have not been ground in to the dust as those nations were can certainly point to this sequence of events as evidence for that argument. If Hizb’allah suffers a major drop in support over the next year, that would be yet another confirming data point. It’s a sad thing to contend, but it’s getting harder to argue against it.

05 September 2006

Patton vs. the Martyrs

Andrea Harris comments on the two kidnapped Fox reporters and David Warren’s criticism that the “conversions” demonstrate the weakness of the West, that we are not willing to die to defend beliefs.

Two things come to mind, as always.

First is, I take the Patton view on the situation. You don’t win culture wars by being willing to die for your beliefs, you win by making the other guys die for their beliefs. As the famous Marine saying on this goes, “We like Pepsi and Mullah Omar likes death. Now he’s dead and I have a Pepsi — win win!”.

Second is that I have already said the same thing Ms. Harris said, which is that Warren’s charge sticks much better because of the behavior of the reporters afterwards, who don’t seem upset at all about being forced to “convert”. For me it would be a matter of being made to express religious beliefs I don’t have more than the particular religion. I think it is a failing (pace Mr. Burnet) that religious belief isn’t taken seriously. Perhaps the rationalists are correct and in the future we will all “outgrow” such things, but that’s not the situation today and to pretend otherwise is hardly rational.

P.S. The difference between this incident and the Italian Quattrochi is that Quattrochi was going to die and he knew it. He certainly could not have saved his life in any way making it a completely different situation. At that point I would hope I had the strength of will he did.

03 September 2006

Gifts of enemies

Via Instapundit I read about yet more Taliban being used for target practice in Afghanistan.

I wonder if we shouldn’t try a different sort of psy-op in that regard and have official announcement of how well our live fire training is going. Those spokesmen should scoff at the very idea that the Taliban are any sort of real threat, but instead provide an excellent way to get units the kind of final polishing they need to fight actually dangerous forces. It’s one thing to be a matyr against overwhelming forces of darkness, another to be considered a somewhat better alternative to cardboard cutouts.

Pride goeth before a fall

Via Instapundit comes the news that The New Republic has suspended one of its writers for sock-puppetry. As Instapundit notes, there seems to be a lot of that going around.

The interesting part is that such activity is going around members of the print media. One can argue about the impact of the blogosphere on the real world, but nothing says impact like people destroying their careers to hit back.

It also demonstrates the insulated and arrogant nature of much of Old Media that such people can’t be bothered (or even have the thought occur to them) that there are different rules online that should be learned before venturing forth.

02 September 2006

Freedom for thee, but not for me

With regard to this previous entry about how the difficulties of the USA and its allies with the Caliphascist forces is self-imposed, I wanted to cite this article (via Brothers Judd) which is about the anti-piracy efforts of the Caliphascist forces in Somolia. The money quote is —

The West may have the better navy — outfitted with all the newest high-tech toys — but Islamist militias in Somalia seem to have the upper hand battling piracy.

Once again we see the failure of understanding why the Caliphascist forces alledgedly do better, which is that those forces do not constrain themselves. This oversight is particularly bizarre when committed by Old Media, which is infamous for jealously protecting non-Westerners “civil rights”, especially in light of a quote like this —

“The actions of the pirates were unlawful, unacceptable and un-Islamic,” Sheikh Said Ali, an ICU official, told the AFP news agency. “Anybody suspected of aiding pirates or being among them will be punished according to Sharia law.” [emphasis added]

Imagine the outcry should some Western government, particularly the USA, act in a harsh manner against people who are suspected of aiding pirates (or other enemies of civilization)1. The USA would certainly do much better than Sheik Ali’s forces if we, too, were lauded for acting against any suspected pirates or pirate aiding people.


1 I want to be careful to not tar Judd with this, as he openly admires the willingness of Caliphascist forces to enforce conformity and never objects when the USA behaves in a similar fashion. In fact, he has a good insight —

By providing security where none previously existed they shrink the Gap, even if such is not necessarily their intent.

One needs to keep in mind that as bad as Shari’a law seems to us, it was a significant improvement over the tribal law that it replaced, just as even Caliphascist rule is an improvement over anarchy and piracy. The problem seems to be that such an improvement is sticky, tending to inhibit further improvement, as 1400 years of Islam indicates.

It's all about the formatting

I updated the formatting for blockquotes, which I think makes them look much nicer. You can do that as well just by using the blockquote element instead of the i or em element. Alternatively, you can use the Textile format and preceed the paragraph with ‘b’ ‘q’ ‘.’ space. And speaking of that, I finally fixed the bad link to the Textile documentation. I saw the problem in the error log file and I can’t believe none of you were willing to tweak me about it.

I also had to move another comment over to the correct entry, although that one was odd enough that I don’t see how my formatting caused the problem, but it wouldn’t be the first time I had no explanation for such a thing.

What do you all think of the comment permalink icon? I can’t decide if I like it or not.