29 January 2007

I admit it, I'm part of the problem

Via the Conservative Grapevine is this post about why the medical system lags far behind other industries in adopting information technology. I have some sympathy for that viewpoint, having actually been involved in a startup trying to do some medical software. My experience there, particularly with regard to the liability issues, convinced me that under no circumstances would I ever want to work in that field again. I can see how a large corporation with a well funded legal staff could do it, but a small, innovative startup? Very challenging, to say the least.

The original post was prompted by an interview with Intel chairman Craig Barrett of Intel. One wonders why, if Barrett really thinks there’s that much untapped marketspace in IT for the medical industry, he’s not funding startups in that area.

27 January 2007

How can you call me extreme just because I won't compromise on anything?

Via Harry’s Place is this post about the challenges for non-radical Muslims in the West. The basic thesis is that such Muslims face a “with us or against us” choice from both their host societies and radical Muslims who, to a large extent, control the official machinery of Islam.

The essay has some interesting points, but I was struck by the preceeding post about the incident of the female Muslim police cadet refusing to shake the hand of the commissioner. The post defends this decision. It seems to me, however, it’s a classic example of how the dilemma in the first post is reinforced. Rather than accomodate or compromise with existing customs, the cadet decided to disregard them in order to avoid a very minor religious transgression. The expectations of the commissioner, the other cadets, their families, and all those associated with the school were irrelevant even for something as minor as a hand shake. Is it any wonder, then, that non-Muslims observing that are willing to believe that the same is true for more important matters? That Muslims will brook no compromise, will respect no pre-existing custom?

It is hardly unreasonable to read this as a general attitude in the Muslim community if it is defended by other Muslims, such as this author. After all, one key property of extremism is the unwillingness to compromise. I think the author would do well to reflect on that.

Old man's job

It seems to me that the new economy should in fact be beneficial to older people looking for jobs. In the economy of 50 years ago, a major reason young people were preferred because it was expected that there would be a relationship between the employee and the employer that would last decades, so you would want someone able to be around decades later. Today, however, the average length of such an association is much less, reducing the penalty for hiring an older worker.

Yet, one still sees many tales of woe of older workers who can’t find jobs, despite apparent qualifications. Is it that

  1. I am simply misinformed — the problem is purely one of my imagination?
  2. It’s a non-serious problem hyped by Old Media?
  3. The older job seekers insist on salaries commensurate with their experience rather than the actual job?
  4. There is an irrational bias among employers?
  5. Young people are more likely to have desireable secondary skills? (e.g., general computer use competence)
  6. Some other cause I didn’t think of?

25 January 2007

Wants vs. needs

I have been reading Triumph Forsaken, despite it apparently having fundamental flaws in its analysis. What has struck me (especially given the discussion here) is the amount of resources spent by the Communists very early in the war. The expenses incurred by the USA were trivial in comparison. Yet today, when we look at the effort in Iraq, the amounts of money being spent are astronomical compared what was spent in Vietnam.

One thought is whether we’ve moved to the other side of the expense equation. For all the talk of how much the Vietnam War cost us, it was far more expensive for our opponents. Is that still true in our current war? It seems highly unlikely. Is that a serious problem? I am not sure, but it is a bit worrisome.

Related is the “sinews of war” concept, where a nation’s war making capability is strongly influenced by its economic might. In the WWII era, the USA was economically dominant but the USSR was able to catch up to up to a large extent because the production style, massive industries of stylized and repetive work, was not completely outside the competence of Communism. Still, capitalism was more efficient long term and gradually widened the gap to the extent that President Reagan was able to oversee spending the USSR in to the dust bin of history. The information age makes this difference even starker — non-liberal democratic regimes will not be able to come any where near as close to the Anglosphere as the USSR did in its time.

However, as fast as our economic advantage has grown, our expectations of what we can accomplish has grown even faster. In the next few decades, as we engage in the current war without enemies, will we be willing to spend enough wealth to accomodate our expectations of how gently we want to wage that war, or will we lower our expectations to achieve victory?

24 January 2007

Interstellar colonization tips

Never let it be said that I won’t jump on a bandwagon once it’s sufficiently loaded. Deep Black had a post about SETI which ended up shifting topic in a long running comment thread. His post was about how we might expect aliens to act in a universe with FTL travel.

I, however, would like to touch on what the comment threaded ended with. Let us presume that lightspeed represents a true upper limit to velocity in the universe. Consider a scenario where you live in a Type I.5 civilization, that is one that effectively uses most of the resources of a star system. However, you want much more than your share of those resources, so you organize a colonization expedition to another star system, where you will be able to claim a share of resources more appropriate to one of your stature. So, what do you pack in your colonization fleet1?

Personally, I would strongly favor tools as meta as possible. I.e., tools that build tools that build tools … as long a chain of that as possible. Secondarily, large amounts of computing power. The convervgence of technologies into mostly digitally computation based ones is a trend I expect to continue, making computational resources very fundamental.

I would aim for systems to make it possible to extract any necessary resources from airless but self-gravitating bodies (e.g., small moons and planetoids). In particular, targeting Jupiter like worlds and their satellites would be the primary design criteria. Systems to capture solar energy would also be key. My plan would be for a society with as much industry in space as possible, to have the habitable planet as basically a park and living quarters. All industry will arrive in space, I don’t see any good reason to put it back on a planet. In addition, It’s likely that the planet will require some amount of terraforming, which would necessitate an intially space based industry.

And there you have it, AOG’s guide to interstellar colonization.

1 Fleet because it doesn’t seem prudent to travel light years from home in a single ship.

As if I wasn't already lacking for material

Senator John Kerry will not be running for President in 2008.

Better political health

While I don’t agree with much of President Bush’ health care plans as layed out in his State of the Union speech, I do think that adjusting the tax deductibility of health insurance is a good idea.

The fact that employers but not individuals can deduct the cost is a hold over from WWII central planning and should have been dumped decades ago. It creates the “portability” problem and if removed would also rapidly eliminate that problem. You wouldn’t need complex monstrosities like COBRA as health insurance would soon have no relationship to one’s job.

I think that tieing that in to health savings accounts (HSAs) would be a win. Make contributions to HSAs tax deductible for individuals and then allow insurance payments out of the HSAs. I realize that from a libertarian point of view that’s unjustified interference in personal economic matters, but at least it is a step in the right direction. The citizenry is not going to accept health care provisioning as purely a consumer good anytime in the next few decades (at least). Therefore we are going to have some sort of government intervention, the best we can do is shape it to be more individually based.

23 January 2007

Like putting a lock on the refigerator

This post at Brothers Judd about the Saudi Entity trying to fine tune oil prices made me think that the Saudis are only grasping half the picture.

Here’s the money quote —

Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, offered this frank assessment to The Wall Street Journal in 2004, just as oil prices began to increase sharply: “We’ve got almost 30 percent of the world’s oil. For us, the objective is to assure that oil remains an economically competitive source of energy. Oil prices that are too high reduce demand growth for oil and encourage the development of alternative energy sources.”

That’s a good analysis of long term issues in being an oil producer. You want the price high enough to bring in a good revenue stream, but not so high that people actively look for alternatives to your production.

On the other hand, it made me think of this earlier post of mine, about the music industry clinging to their profits from selling content. In many ways, the situations are similar, although the Saudis come off smarter1. But that leads me to wonder why the Saudis don’t try what I recommend for Sony et. al., that of maximimizing short term profits which are then re-invested. Do the Saudis simply not realize this, or do they believe that they are incapable of successfully investing the money? If the latter, that would be an implicit admission that their government and/or society is doomed to collapse and the best they can do is put off that day by fine tuning oil prices.

1 Except for Apple, who seem to have grasped this point, that there is a sweet spot between leaving too much money on the table and convincing your customers to go someplace else.

22 January 2007

Traders and misers

Instapundit has been following the debate on DRM and its relationship to the current Microsoft operating system release, Vista. Much of the discussion has been driven by this paper which explores some of the security and robustness implications of the Dark Empire’s embrace of DRM in Vista.

What I find the most interesting aspect from a sociological point of view is the claim that Microsoft will achieve the result of making legal, professional content look worse than amatuer and pirated content. If so, that would represent a major triumph of paranoia over success for both Microsoft and the premium content providers.

It is useful to contrast this with Apple’s approach. This article is one I have been intending to comment on. It starts with the thesis that DRM is failing for the reason noted just previously, that it’s painful, risky, and delivers lower quality results for the consumer. This results in consumers avoiding DRM content in various ways, such as buying less or no content, buying niche content without DRM, or pirating. However, the article claims, Apple is single-handedly giving DRM a lifeline. Here is the money quote —

With iPods commanding such a large part of the player market, and iTunes integration so complete that it’s the easiest option for new iPod owners in search of more music, Apple can present the best case for DRM to the industry: the success of the iTunes Store. Given that iTunes is now the #5 music retailer in the US and rising, the Apple mantra isn’t pro-DRM or anti-DRM, but that “the experience is king.”

Apple is selling DRM content because it provides a superior experience at a reasonable premium. People are cheap, but not infinitely cheap. Yes, Apple will lose the hard core misers, but those sort of people will never spend much money on anything, no matter how compelling. The key insight of Apple is that it doesn’t make sense to compromise your overall product experience to chase after that sort, as you’ll never get serious cash flow out of them. Instead, Apple seems to have optimized for the average person, who will pay a decent premium for content if that premium guarantees ease of use and quality. This is the root of iTunes’ success. Everything is the same affordable price, the system as a whole (iTunes + iPod) just works, and the quality is top notch. Most people would rather spend the 99¢ and be done with it than spend a hour or two searching, downloading, and testing for quality.

Of course, a certain amount of piracy and cheating goes on. But Apple seems to have realized that from a business point of view, stomping out piracy is not a goal, but a means. The goal is to maximize the long term revenue stream and piracy suppression must be viewed as a tunable knob in service of that goal, not something that is intriinsically good of itself. Apple is clearly trying to find the sweet spot of price, service, and quality that does this, rather than the scheme that minimizes “lost profit”. Lost profit is theory, revenue streams are facts. Apple wants to do business.

In contrast, Microsoft and its backing content providers are acting more like misers, valuing the prevention of theft more than the increasing of sales. Better to prevent one act of piracy than sell a dozen tracks. That’s just not a model that will provide long term success in an information society.

21 January 2007

If the ABA doesn't respect the law, why should anyone else?

My level of respect for the ABA has been in steady decline for the last couple of decades, so I am not very surprised to find out that it has been

  • Pressuring laws schools to engage in flagrant affirmative action via threats of withholding accredidation
  • Used quotas to judge law schools’ efforts at the above, instead of, say, the actual efforts
  • Extending these quotas to faculty in direct violation of the ABA’s own regulations
  • Torturing non-compliant schools with failing marks by refusing to ever explicitly state what the failing schools needed to do to not fail

See here, here, and here for details.

The best quote was from one of the case studies, from the ABA’s own files, was this one —

The school’s commitment to being a diverse community has been given expression in both the student population, thanks to the [program for disadvantaged students], and in the makeup of the faculty. The adoption of an anti-affirmative action posture by the Regents of the University of California, reinforced by success of Proposition 209 with the California electorate poses very real issues for maintaining a diverse student body. Although persons of color make up 30.4% of the student body, the most recent entering class showed a dramatic decline in the number of African-Americans. Given the school’s traditions and aspirations it may be essential to reconsider the level of risk it is willing to bear to achieve a larger representation of this traditionally underrepresented group. [emphasis added]

It is hard for me to interpret that as anything other than direct encouragement for the law school to break the law. It seems that the accredidation group within the ABA is now promoting “diversity” quotas over legality. Is this really the sort of thing lawyers, as a class, want to represent them to the rest of the citizenry?

Government is people, too, not just a natural disaster

Via Instapundit is the story of a convicted murderer who is getting state aid intended for helping out foster kids leaving the foster care system. What was interesting to me is how, despite this being an investigatory article about an abuse of the state, no detail at all is provided about how, exactly, this decision was made within the state bureaocracy. Here is a typical quote —

The state ordered the Wayne County program support for Abraham, even though he was from Pontiac and was convicted in Oakland County.

It’s always “the state” or “the state Department of Human Services”. While it’s possible that the department is concealing the identity of the actual decision maker, the article contains no hint that the journalists made any attempt to find out. Given how the result seems to violate multiple state policies and regulations, wouldn’t the identity of who is making this happen be interesting to know? It’s like a Willey Horton story that doesn’t mention Dukkakis.

20 January 2007

Nothing to see here, move along

Ouch!. Looks I called that one completely wrong. Luckily, no one will remember.

Don't look or you'll collapse the mixed state

Sorry, couldn’t resist some Judd baiting. Today, OJ writes about Iran

He’s the President. They’re a foe. It’s his job to manufacture a pretext for war. Memo to Iranian Navy: avoid the Gulf of Tonkin

Really? But Iran is our ally with a ruling theocracy that has convergent interests with the USA. It will be fun to see what happens when one trope collides with the other, but I suspect one will simply be dropped down the memory hole.

Signs of aging

As media becomes ever more targeted and demographically sliced, will our children judge their aging by the type of advertisements that appear on their favorite channels? “I was watching a new channel I liked when I saw an ad about sensible retirement saving! I’m ooooooolllllld!”. While targeted media is considered a feature that delivers higher entertainment value, there’s always a downside to looking too closely in the mirror.

19 January 2007

Turning the golden rule into a golden fork

Pope Benedict XVI has called on Turkey to grant legal recognition to the Catholic Church as a religious organization in Turkey. It seems that B16 has been playing the long game from the start and is now starting to put his pieces in to place. If Turkey agrees, then the win for B16 is clear. If not, the Pope gets a nice hammer to use in any future confrontation related to the Catholic Church’s relationship with Islam. I like how B16, rather than a front on assault, has looked at the internal contradictions of political Islam and is striking at those fault lines. Nicely played.

Property line

Via Hot Air is a story about a free speech case in Colorado. Person A didn’t liked political mailings from candidate B, so A wrapped up some dog poop in a mailing and stuffed it in B’s mailbox. Now A is claiming “it was free speech!”. One is left wondering whether A would consider it “free speech” if someone grabbed one of the signs in her yard and smacked her upside the head with it.

One of A’s defenders likens the act to flag burning, even though it’s nothing like flag burning from a legal perspective. I suspect the confusion stems from the inability of much of the MAL to grasp the fundamentalism of property rights and why there are so criticial in a liberal society. In the case of flag burning, one interacts with one’s own property, so it’s free speech. In this case, A interacted (potentially damaging) B’s property. So not free speech. It may be a thin line, but it’s a very bright one.

18 January 2007

The question that dare not speak its name

A little late to the party, but I wanted to comment on this statement by Pamela Hess

What we’re not asking is actually the central question. We’re getting distracted by the shiny political knife fight. What we need to be asking is, what happens if we lose? And no one will answer that question. If we lose, how are we going to mitigate the consequences of this?

It’s so much easier for us to cover this as a political horse race. It’s on the cover of “The New York Times” today, what this means for the ‘08 election. But we’re not asking the central national security question, because it seems that if as a reporter you do ask the national security question, all of a sudden you’re carrying Bush’s water. There are national security questions at stake, and we’re ignoring them and the country is getting screwed.

As noted, one is left aghast but not surprised that reporters would rather be openly derelict in their claimed duties than appear to favor the President of the United States.

But there are a number of other implications of this. The first is how unserious about the subject these reporters must believe Bush’s political opponents to be to think that just asking a serious question about national security favors Bush. From that follows another one, which is that at some level these reporters must realize the Bush has strong arguments and his opponents weaker ones, for the question itself to favor Bush. If they really thought the “anti-war” arguments were strong, wouldn’t asking such questions damage Bush, not favor him? It’s not people who think they have the answers that fear the question. So much for the fearless, “truth to power” objectivity of modern journalism.

As incisive as this is, I expect it to disppear quickly, because the people most embarrassed by it would be the people doing the reporting on it. Otherwise, I suspect Hess will be dismissed as a pro-military hawk1 based on this comment

Kurtz: Pam Hess, during Vietnam U.S. officials were often accused of distorting or even lying to the press to try to make it look like the war effort was going better than it was. When you were in Iraq did you feel like you were getting the straight story?

Hess: Certainly from the military I did. They have no interest in cooking the books, as it were, they—they understand that they were blamed for Vietnam and what happened, and they don’t want that blame again.

The military is embarrassd about lieing about events during the Vietnam war. The journalist class and their accessories in the MAL, in contrast, take pride in having subjected multiple nations in south east Asia to decades of Communist oppression.

1 Just like only military personel can support a war, but anyone can oppose it, being pro-military or a hawk makes you biased but being anti-military or a dove doesn’t.

Picking the right lesson

There’s a lot of claims about Iraq being the new 1970s era Vietnam, but I wonder if those opposing the war are not settling for more of a new Cambodia instead. Much of the violence there is deliberately targeting the professional class, which is much similar to the Khmer Rogue than the North Vietnamese. In this case Iran would play the role of Vietnam, aiding the rebels in Iraq to destroy it as a functioning society (which is good for the geo-political ambitions of the mullahocracy). A decent person might say “nobody could want to encourage that kind of result”, but how could such a person explain how so many in the MAL are to this day proud of doing exactly that in IndoChina in the 1970s?

UPDATE: I am glad I got this posted today, as via Best of the Web is this piece by Jeff Jacoby making a similar point. In this case, Jacoby hits Senator Ted Kennedy for referring to Iraq as “Bush’ Vietnam” because Kennedy was a lead Senator in the effort to create the tragedy that later befell south east Asia. Keep that in mind the next time some one claims it’s the GOP leadership that is indifferent to suffering in the world.

Mainstream imaging

Wow. Sony took out a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal today for their digital SLR camera, the α. I knew that dSLR cameras were becoming a big consumer item, but worth full page WSJ ads? That’s far more mainstream than I had thought. I had already noticed over the last couple of years a significant increase in the number of other parents with big lens cameras at kids’ events, but now it looks like I am about to become an average photographer instead of a techno-geek one. Cool.

17 January 2007

Kind to be cruel

Now there’s a plan

Well, if Bush pardons Libby, he should also pardon Joe Wilson at the same time.

Just have a pardon order drawn up on Wilson and state on it that his crimes are still classified and thus cannot be revealed to the public, but its really really, frogmarch bad.

Pool time!

As I hear about the emerging civil war in the Palestinian territories, I just wonder — should we have a pool on when the first splodey-dope goes off there? A certain weblogger may think that any means is justified1 in the “struggle for self determination”, but people of a more sophisticated moral outlook realize that means contaminate ends because they create blowback. Having justified splodey-dopes as legitimate against the oppressive Zionists, they are clearly also justified against Zionist agents, such as which ever Palestinian gang opposes “my” gang. I will predict there will be at least one this year.

1 Nothing is a war crime if you win.

16 January 2007

Don't look up my sleeve

This post at Brothers Judd was amusing. Judd disputes the concept of losing in Iraq by pointing out the unlikelihood of a resurgent Sunnia based totalitarian regime in Iraq. That’s like arguing that we couldn’t lose Vietnam to Communism because the Maosists there and in China would never allow it to be conquered by Troskyites. The concept of a Shiite totalitarianism (such as in Iran) continues to elude him, although his obvious defensiveness on the subject might indicate otherwise.

Unfounded holiday

Recovering from the long weekend, I was thinking about Martin Luther King day. Perhaps1 I am insensitive, but I have never liked having MLK’s birthday as a national holiday. I have basically the same view as this author. I would be tempted to replace it with a Founders’ Day, to honor the people who truly made this nation what it is, a nation founded on a set of ideas instead of blood and soil.

In contrast, MLK Day and its associated “<Ethnicity> Month” celebrations stand, in my view, in direct opposition to that vision of the Founders. The very basis of such things is that certain citizens, due to their ethnicity, cannot adopt the intellectual history of the USA as their own, that there must be an ethnic connection. Not even a shared tribal or cultural heritage, but purely ethnicity. One might also wonder about a natural corollary, which is that MLK’s legacy could not be considered part of the national heritage of non-blacks. The logic is identical. But I suppose once you’ve gone with the tribal view, you’ve already left logic behind.

1 Although many tell me “there is no ‘perhaps’ about it”.

15 January 2007

Identity prosecution

Augh. I made the mistake of going to a hospital for my annual physical exam Friday and I have had a serious head cold ever since. They took a blood sample and as usual left a bruise bigger than my palm. I would blame the nurse, but it has happened every single time for over twenty years, so I suspect it’s more me than her.

Anyway, in my foggy haze of no sleep and stuffy head, I ran in to this post at Hot Air about the Duke Lacrosse case. What I found interesting was how sympathetically the mothers of the accused treated the accuser, one of them coming right out and saying, “this woman has been abused by men all her life, but most of all by Mike Nifong”. Where have I read that kind of thing before?

The best we can hope for now is that Nifong can server as an example for the discouragement of others, as it seems hard to believe that three men are the only people in the USA to have been run through this particular wringer.

On the downside, much of the political support Nifong recieved for supporting the case is from people who openly admit the specific guilt of the men is irrelevant, on the social guilt of their class matters. That’s far more dangerous to the Republic than a rogue prosecutor.

11 January 2007

More book related thoughts

Has some convention changed in the last few years in the publishing industry and I wasn’t informed? I was trying to buy a book in a particular ficton by a particular author. It was new to me, so I wanted to start with the first book. This turned out to be challenging because the “books by this author” page in the preface listed them in reverse order (last to first). I didn’t realize this because the author has another ficton and the books for that one were listed first to last. Mostly. The very first book (by internal and external time) was listed third, followed by the rest in mostly internal chronological order (but not quite). Nowhere in the books could I find any other listing to indicate the ordering.

I realize now I should have checked the first publication date, but didn’t publishers used to make it easier for people to get started on a series by listing the books in the series in order? I don’t think it was just this book, as I have vague memories of being taunted in this way by a couple of other series. That’s not to mention that the series would be clearly marked as well, and now it’s just a flat list of titles and the reader is left to guess which books are related. I hope this is just an oversight and not the start of a trend.

Still a few bugs in the system

My copy of Redefining Sovereignity arrived today, even though I originally ordered it with in a week of its release from Amazon. I ended up having to cancel and re-order before I could get it shipped. I suspect the delay was due to an agreement with the editor that it would not be touched by secularist / Darwinist hands.

Better a renter than a buyer

While the tale of Rob Glaser burning money at Air America (via Brothers Judd) is amusing, it does leave one wondering why so many people who owe their fortunes to a wide open capitalistic system end up so dedicated to destroying it. There is no end to proposed explanations —

  • Expunging guilt that they’re rich and others are not.
  • The “man on the Moon” fallacy — because they have succeeded in imposing their will in a business arena they don’t see why the same can’t be done with social problems.
  • The “pull up the ladder after I’m on top” view. I find this one less plausible because so such types seem painfully earnest.

I wonder, though, if no small part of it was that so many of the really big techno-fortunes were more a matter of luck than real skill. Having been around in the industry during the entire tech boom, what I saw was a huge number of companies with good ideas and capable staff where, due almost purely to luck, one or two would make the big time and the rest would be crushed. For every company that caught a wave at just the right time, there were a dozen slightly too early and another dozen slightly too late. Even the Dark Empire got its start essentially due to the luck of having its key competitor blow off a single critical meeting.

I am not saying that these people were just sitting around when money showed up, but that the difference between them and the equally hard working and competent also rans was frequently chance meetings and lucky timing.

I am sure, however, that few of these people view things that way but instead see it as themselves being enormously more competent than everyone else and lacking awareness of how contingent their state is. Without that kind of insight, socialist ideas seem plausible because they’re smart enough and there is no such thing as unintended consequences. Hopefully, this association of socialist activism and large fortunes is an epiphenomenon of the tech boom and we will be returning to a more conservative cast in the future of petty rent seeking.

Now we like the oppression inherent in the system

The politically correct view of humanity is that everyone wants liberty. Then I read articles (via Brothers Judd) like this

The Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel recently issued a document proffering a new political “vision.” The message is sharp and clear: The Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel no longer advocates a two-state solution. Beside the future Palestinian — Arab- Muslim — state there should be a binational state, Jewish and Palestinian, which will give the Palestinian minority special political rights.

These mayors live in a liberal democracy, where they are obviously free to get elected to mayoral positions and publish manifestos hostile to their host government. Yet when they look at that vs. the misery and oppression Arabs suffer in the neighboring states, they say to themselves “we got to get us some of that!”. It’s one thing to be a TranZi in a nation far removed from the daily realities of oppressive regimes. It’s another to support such oppression when it’s a 10 minute drive away and on the local news every day.

10 January 2007

You're an odd one, Mr. Grinch

Of course, I hardly need more evidence that I am (to be kind) “idiosyncratic”, but the new security question idea that’s been going around online financial websites is really driving it home. So many of the questions are ones that I simply don’t have referents or answers for. For instance, I have never had a pet animal, so that entire class of questions (“dog’s name”, “favorite animal”, etc.) is right out. Most “favorite” questions don’t work for me because either the genre is not of sufficient interest to have thought of a favorite (e.g, music or movies), or I have a set of favored instances of which I can’t really pick a favorite (e.g., books). It is actually a challenge to find a set of questions out of the offered choices to which I would give consistent answers. For at least one, I had to print out the page with the questions and answers because I doubted I could remember them. If only they had good questions, like “what currently feasible megascale engineering project would you most like to build?” or “what is your favorite weblog?”.

09 January 2007

Too wealthy for libraries

Daimnation! is lamenting the downgrading of public libraries in to holding pens for mass market paper backs. One of the anecdotes was amusing — a library instituted the rule that books that weren’t getting checked out would be culled in favor of more popular ones. This put paid to all of the “good” literature (such as Hemmingway).

To some extent I don’t see what can be done. People are much wealthier now and likely find ordering from Amazon or trading via on-line exchanges more convenient than going to the library and hoping a book is there. That trend is only likely to increase. In addition, political correctness and ACLU lawsuits make visiting the libr

I also find that I lack the appropriate nostalgia for public libraries. Even though I was a voracious reader as far back as I can remember, I hardly ever visited a library and then only when school necessities compelled it. So I have not a single happy memory of a public library despite living a book filled childhood. My own children are following the same pattern — we actually have to cull our own book collections because there is no more room for more shelves nor books upon them. What the kids have is happy memories of bookstores. By the time any of the kids were two years old, they would light up when a parent asked “would you like to go to the bookstore?”, so the lack of library time has meant no dimming of a passion for reading. Is this a shame or just a unimportant shift in consumer spending habits? I am not sure, but I suspect my experiences are too atypical to judge.

We're sorry we misjudged you — we'll strive to think less of you in the future

Put this one in the Open Source Intelligence files —

Last Friday, a senior delegation of U.S. defense officials was briefed in Jerusalem by members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Israel’s threat perceptions in the wake of last summer’s failed war with Hezbollah. The Israelis warned that the Syrian army is at its highest state of readiness since 1982, when the two sides clashed over Lebanon. They also warned that Egypt is actively funneling arms to Hamas in Gaza. The claim astonished the Americans. Why, they asked, had they never been told of it through formal Israeli channels?

Is there any intelligent person who reads weblogs about the Middle East who didn’t know both of these things months ago? It’s as if the CIA generates negative information, preventing those who get its reports from knowing what’s obvious to everyone else.

08 January 2007

Natural devolution

Both Brothers Judd and Diversely We Sail commented on this article concerning the growing support for kicking their parasitic butts out granting independence to Scotland from the UK. How then can I resist the urge?

There are several converging trends here that support the devolution of large polities.

The first is a subject I have touched on before. In our era, other peoples and territories are in general net losses. Just like modern employers have found that it’s not in their best interests to tie employees and / or business partners too closely, so various polities are finding that if a region thinks of itself as independent, it may well be best to hold on loosely so you can let go if they don’t work out.

In addition, the End of History and the spreading of trade pacts and supra-national organizations reduces the costs and increases the benefits of smaller polities. Scotland has run in to a bit of a snag with the European Commission stating that an independent Scotland would not be automatically admitted to the EU, but that’s a relatively minor nit which can almost certainly be overcome. Even with Europe’s degraded military, the idea of an actual military invasion isn’t credible. Moreover, what really protects Europe is American military power, so disassociating from local military powers is almost cost free. Without the impetus of trade and military advantages, what attraction does a large polity really have?

Interestingly, I think that the federal system in the USA is a significant part of why we see much less of this in the USA. I could of course be mistaken, but as far as I can tell there’s nothing in the European political structure that corresponds to our state governments, not with the kind of control those government have here. This provides a release valve for many of the issues involved in devolution, without having to actually break up the overall polity.

In the end, large polities evolved because of the economies of scale of pre-information age societies. Now, those economies of scale no longer exist and in some cases are actually negative. Naturally, then, we can expect a period of devolution.

When you see a chance, take it – Smash the state if you can't save it

Orrin Judd looks at the problems the Tehran theocracy is having with petroleum production and is lead astray be his misreading of the structure and basis of the theocracy. Judd writes that this disinvestment in petroleum production is why “Khamenei needs the reformers”, but doesn’t bother to explain how the reformers could overcome a structural problem of the theocracy as noted in the very article he cites. That problem is that the theocracy depends on buying off internal opposition. Reform will not change that. State ownership of the means of production will prevent any substantive changes, leaving the “reformers” to tinker pointless about the edges, just as Gorbachev did in the USSR.

Reformers won’t be able to deal with another issue, which is the USA pressuring potential Iranian partners which seems to be having an impact on Iranian oil production as well. It would make kicking the nuclear can down the road a bit a reasonable option, if such reports are accurate. It’s reasonable to postpone a conflict if you can manipulate other factors to increase one’s relative advantage in the meanwhile.

This ties in to the situation in Somalia. While it would be better in absolute terms to have a real government in Somalia, the current available option smashing Caliphascist government at any opportunity is a tolerable substitute, despite whining by certain pro-theocracy critics. What’s ironically amusing is that critic edited a collection of essays; about how the USA should be doing this sort of thing, destabilizing governments that were not liberal democracies. But he seems upset when this theory is put to use in the real world.

Responsiblity politics

There seems to be a view going around (for example, here), that the Democratic Party won’t cut off funds for Iraq as they did for Vietnam because of the repercussions, or in essence “they’d only be making Iraq their responsibility”.

I just don’t see that. Note that in the case of Vietnam, the Democratic Party managed to tag former President Nixon with most of the blame, even though it direct American involvement was started by Democratic Party Presidents and Nixon was the President who extracted the American presence. In the case of Iraq, the meme of “Bush’s War” is already set, so I don’t see how anything the Democratic Party does will change that. After all, if there’s one thing the MAL is good at, it’s avoiding any responsiblity for the effects of its policies or actions.

07 January 2007

When you've got a shovel, digging is natural

Orrin Judd dismisses the recent Ethiopian adventure in Somalia as just a “brief feel-good story”, a sentiment I find odd. Judd is a big fan of destabilization in Iraq and the surrounding area, precisely because of the dead end nature of the Realist school of stability. But instability in Somalia is bad and Ethipoia ended up sorry for having destabilized the regime a good thing.

Personally, I see it as one more thread in the tapestry of defeat that Islam is weaving. Month by month, some faction of Islam manages to make one more enemy for the religion. The idea of the USA alienating the rest of the planet is a commonly discussed one, but one that doesn’t hold up well to actual facts. On the other hand, Islam’s shrinking set of non-enemies grows continuously but no one, including the ummah, seems to be concerned about that.

Everything is permitted to the cool

I was going to write a post about this from Tammy Bruce, in which she notes that while Arafat was a flaming homosexual to the extent of making passes at Terry McAuliffe, he was also leading a society that openly persecuted homosexuals to the point of lynching. Yet Arafat was protected from this not only by his position but by the complicity of Old Media and other fellow travelers.

Yet, how many more tales of Arafat’s scumminess are needed? Or of how the chatterati acted so hypocritically in covering for Arafat? Arafat’s motivations, I understand. But his fellow travelers, particularly those in West? They continue to mystify me. On the other hand, the seletion of who were the “cool” kids never made sense to me either.

In honor of one of our fine readers

Spray on Shropshire mud — for when you need to obscure your arguments right now.

05 January 2007

Please, Microsoft, may I have another?

Apparently the Dark Empire’s digital music player, the Zune, is not warming many hearts out in the real world. Some of the issues are just hilarious —

  • The reviewer had to install a DLL on the player to make it work.
  • Zune is not compatiable with Windows Media Player.
  • Zune does not support the Dark Empire’s own Play For Sure digital rights management.
  • Zune don’t do podcasts.
  • Zune doesn’t interoperate with the XBox store.
  • Even free, self produced content that is transferred between Zune players gets expired after three plays.
  • Zune has a large display, but was originally not planned to play video, a design that would have a strong impact on battery life for no benefit.

Is there a single one of these that wouldn’t have been an obvious problem from the start?

What I suspect is that the Dark Empire doesn’t care about Zune success, that it’s simply an experiment. As noted here

Microsoft now says that the first Zune is only a test and that next year it will release an entirely new set of hardware with new and better features. It has not committed to supporting the current Zune player or providing new software releases in the future.

Just like Microsoft Windows, it is likely that Zune won’t be a worth while product until version 3 or so. Selling it on the market lets Microsoft reduce its overall research costs without apparently having any impact on its long term sales. As long as that works, why not?

It also illustrates that a list of cool hardware features does not guarantee a good product. The difference between Microsoft and Apple seems to be that Apple is able to figure out the additional infrastructure needed before shipping. However, this has its downside, in that Microsoft’s approach means that it is constantly adjusting and adapting, even if slowly. Apple’s market failings have (IMHO) come from the fact that it did so well at the start that it didn’t seem to think it needed to change later, allowing the lumbering giant to eventually pass it by.

Via Samizdata.

It's the economics, reviewer!

Orrin Judd cites an article on Hollywood movies set in Africa. The main premise is that Hollywood sets the movies up as Bad White Folk vs. Good White Folk, leaving the Africans to play background.

While there are lots of explanations, I suspect the largest single reason is that “Star Trek Away Party” problem. This is the issue that on a real starship, any captain who lead an away party would be court martialed for dereliction of duty. But doing that realistically would

  • Greatly reduce the amount of screen time for the expensive stars of the show
  • Greatly reduce the dramatic conflict when Bad Things happen to the away party because
    • The hero / main character wasn’t directly at risk
    • The entire ship wouldn’t be at risk either

So the ranking officers of the Enterprise would head off in to dangerous situations, contrary to all military discipline and logic.

Hollywood creates the same problem in its movies with its insistence on extremely high cost stars, who by and large are White Folk. Once that decision has been made, the plaint of the original article is inevitable because the script is going to keep those high priced stars front and center.

An interesting contrast to this is The Last King of Scotland, a movie I saw to maintain marital harmony. While the main character (Nicholas Garrigan / James McAvoy) is White Folk, he’s basically a passive vessel who is acted upon by the locals (particularly Idi Amin / Forest Whitaker). The best and worst people in the movie are all African. One notes that Whitaker is the biggest name, and of the rest of the cast on Gillian Anderson is well known, which fits well with my thesis.

04 January 2007

Maybe it's not information they're processing

Yet another interesting tidbit from Instapundit today is this column by Don Surber about newspapers competing with weblogs. I didn’t find it of much substance except for this quote, which floored me —

The problem for PMs [newspapers delivered in the afternoon] has been the time of day. Our deadlines have rolled back from 2 pm 30 years ago to about 10 am today. Our delivery time has remained 5 pm.

Woah! Over the last 30 years, as all other information work has become an ever more automated, just in time, accelerated to Internet speed kind of thing, the newspaper business has slowed down. And not a little bit either, but from a 3 hour lead time to a 7 hour lead time. How could any organization use information technology to more than double the time it takes to produce content? I don’t think it’s the time of day that’s the real problem here.

I have a not so little list…

I have to agree with Instapundit that the failure of the 109th Congress to reform copy right law was a major missed opportunity for the GOP.

  • It would have been good for the economy.
  • It would have benefited ordinary people at the expense of a notoriously corrupt industry
  • It would have sapped the monetary strength of a demographic that overwhelmingly supports the Democratic Party
  • It would have been a perfect set up to paint the Democratic Party as
    • A party of elites and elite wanna-bes
    • In thrall to Big Business
  • It’s hard to see how that industry and its fellow travelers could be much more hostile to the GOP.

It was hardly the only missed opportunity, more just one of a long list. It makes it interesting to hear MALists go on about the unstoppable, completely disciplined Republican juggernaut. I guess the leadership was too busy defending blatantly corrupt Congressmen from another party.

Technological Ecosystems

Instapundit claims that this open source, community based search engine is competition for Google. Well, maybe. I consider it an open question how high the barriers to competition are. Certainly they are far beyond the reach of an ordinary citizen because there is so much content that it takes a serious amount of hardware (and therefore money) to cover enough to be useful at all. On the other hand, that kind of investment isn’t large for technology start ups. Google has also been clever by focusing on niche areas as well, so that competing by focusing on a niche and then line extending is more difficult as well (I wonder who they might have copied that from).

What I think is actually a more serious barrier to entry is parasitism. By this I mean agents that will subvert / colonize a system to exploit for their own purposes. The best known example is junk e-mail, whereby the junk mail senders (the parasites) colonized the electronic mail system. Google currently fights a long war with the parasites, colloquially referred to as “Search Engine Optimizers” or SEOs. Any new search engine that became popular would face the same problem1.

Looking at the project Instapundit mentions, it doesn’t appear that the designers have considered this problem at all. As John Weidner points out, this is the same “why can’t we all just get along” point of view that gave us our current junk plagued eletronic mail system. Given the problems Google has with SEOs abusing the search algorithms externally, imagine what will happen when the SEOs can get in to the ranking data directly. That’s not to mention that SEO abuse is a big reason Google keeps its algorithms secret2.

Overall I don’t think that worrys about Modern American Leftist control of the Internet are well founded. The barriers are certainly lower now than during the heyday of Old Media and MAL control of that apparatus. A more interesting concern is why such an obviously flawed ideology like Socialism is so prevalent among our era’s most successful businessmen, especially some place like Google whose problems with SEOs is remarkably similar to the “tragedy of the commons” implicit in Socialism.

Of course, we are still left with the parasites, who I think will long term be a greater menace than the adherents to a dieing ideology. Parasitism isn’t going away for any forseeable future.

1 Even professors of computer security at major universities are now treating this sort of colonization as a major security issue.

2 I can already hear the Open Source groupies saying “oh, the distributed intelligence of the community will defeat the junkers!”. Just like it has for electronic mail, eh?

Whose line is it?

I stumbled on this review of Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion. It’s a good review because it basically aligns with my views, which is that Dawkins has written some excellent material in the past but lately he’s gone off the rails with his militant atheism.

But that’s not important now. What matters is my Phariseac question.

At one point, the reviewer writes

Dawkins spends much time on what can only be described as intellectual banalities: “Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth?”

which reminded me of the religious pea under my mental matresses — if Mary was a virgin, and Joseph was of the line of David, how could Jesus also be of the line of David? Shouldn’t Mary have been in David’s line (and didn’t Jewish culture of that time have matrilineal descent?). Or do I have the theology all wrong? I am sorry if the profundity of this makes your brain hurt, but that’s the risk you assumed when you loaded up this page in your browser.

P.S. For the sake of She Who Is Perfect In All Ways, I don’t dare ask our pastor this kind of question (because the pastor still thinks SWIPIAW married well).

Living in a sink hole

Right Wing News reports that many of neighborhoods in New Orleans with the worst flooding during hurrican Katrina are being rebuilt to their previous state. Requirements that the houses be flooding / hurricane resistant are simply ignored. Best of all, it’s being done with huge piles of federal money. Some of the good quotes —

Mike Centineo, the city’s building chief, […] acknowledged that most returning homeowners are not raising their houses to meet the new flood guidelines. “[…] No one wants it to happen again. But they’re just rebuilding as best they can.”

Obviously not, if they’re violating the new flood guidelines. Or, the guidelines are bogus because they are unimplementable. But “best they can” is right out.

“It’s terrifying: We’re doing the same things we have in the past but expecting different results,” said Robert G. Bea, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and a former New Orleans resident

Not at all. The residents are clearly expecting the same results — the federal government will buy them all new houses after the next hurricane induced flooding. I think we can reasonably conclude that the ones who stayed and are rebuilding are the ones who find a new house a good trade off for enduring the flood. They’re not the ones being stupid here.

[Manifestly incompetent Mayor of New Orleans] Nagin, who was hearing complaints that shrinking the city’s footprint was unfair, particularly to African Americans, rejected the idea

OK, now we have a candidate for a stupidity source. But you all knew that already.

I have to admit, I am a bit biased, because the plan rejected by “Chocolate City” Nagin was similar to what I have proposed on this subject, that the government not reimburse but purchase the flooded out homes. The purchased properties are then reverted to wetlands / parks both to avoid additional losses and reduce flooding in nearby areas. But we see here yet another failure of the GOP leadership in Washington, that Nagin was able to reject the plan. It’s not his money, how did he get veto power over it? The Republican Congress could have written the funding legislation to require this for disbursement, but didn’t. Stuck on stupid once again.

It's the BIG lie that works, people!

As the saga of the Associated Press and Jamail Hussein winds on, it seems to me that the AP isn’t taking advantage of the situation on the ground. Why not just claim that Hussein was killed by a car bomb? Or better yet, killed by a government death squad for fearlessly reporting the truth and that he was found out because of the publicity surrounding this issue. Best of all, claim that Centcom and the Iraqi government did, in fact, find him but then had him killed before announcing that he didn’t exist. It would be just as accurate and dramatic as the AP’s current reporting and provide an explanation that would provide the impenetrable shield of conspiracy theory in the AP’s target market.

03 January 2007

Religion is fundamental

I have been holding on to this post at Brothers Judd for a while. It excerpts a report about how Hizb’allah provided aid and comfort to Lebanese hurt by the Israeli invasion. Judd then writes

We’ve never figured this out about Hezbollah or Hamas either—there is just one side. They fill the roll of government, with the armed forces just being a part of the whole. Neither would Washington and Franklin have seen themselves as opposites.

Even for Judd, this one stands out for its level of reality dysfunction. First off, there would be no need for this aid had Hizb’allah not started the war. More importantly, Hizb’allah can operate only because its budget is supplied by a foreign power. That is the exact opposite of a government and is most similar to an occupying power, and we know what Judd thinks of that sort.

However, as in much of Judd’s writing, being Shiite trumps any facts on the ground. Even if Hizb’allah is obviously “an alien one, imported from the East, from the extremist regime in Tehran” to astute observers in Lebanon, that doesn’t matter. Hizb’allah is Shiite and therefore the exact equivalent of our Founding Fathers. I, however, find them far more like the Hessians, but with many fewer redeeming qualities.

Government tourism

In the comments on this post about Pinochet vs. Guevara, regular commentor pj brings up this point

Or perhaps his real crime wasn’t killing at all, but leaving a democratic, free, and prosperous society.

This reminded me of another thought that I had on the subject, which is that a significant swath of support for oppressive third world dictators such as Fidel Castro might well be based on the same impulse that gives rise to rage against globalization. That is, the impulse to see the rest of the world as a theme park, the purpose of which is to provide entertainment and props for internal psycho-dramas. I will refer to such people who enjoy playing at poverty via other people’s real poverty as “touristas”. This includes much of Hollywood and the MAL, among others.

The objection by the touristas to globalization is that it “ruins” the native culture, which includes such effects as better wealth, health, and a larger selection of jobs. This naturally makes the locality more like the West, instead of quaint with grinding poverty. This ruins the experience for the Westerners, which is narcissistically taken as an absolute ruination.

Which brings us to Cuba as an example. As terrible as it is for the Cubans, it’s a great place for the touristas. A liberal democracy and function economy would ruin the culture for the touristas. The touristas wouldn’t be the priviledged, rich, lordly foreigners whom no one dared annoyed anymore. So Che Guevara is a good guy because he not only helped create this vacation planation for the touristas but draped the oppression in pleasant illusions.

I wonder if the desire to have various tyrants “play” with the government and social theories that the touristas are enamored of is part of the same viewpoint. The fact that it causes such suffering isn’t relevant for the touristas, so why should social program tourism be any different? Just like poverty, it’s “cool” when you get to enjoy the spectacle while some off stage foreigners pay the price (although not really, of course, because good tyrants tell easy for the touristas to believe lies about that, and even if not, what’s the importance of such suffering compared to a tourista’s self esteem?). All the world’s a stage for the enlightened vanguard.

The wrong class of people

I find it quite interesting that Augusto Pinochet is still the boogie-man of choice for TranZis. For instance, this comment in a recent exchange here about Saddam Hussein, brings up Pinochet as a putative counter-example. But why Pinochet? Why not, for example, Che Guevara? He killed roughly as many people as Pinochet, and enjoyed it a lot more. Guevara’s diaries have numerous entries about his enthusiasm for political murder, something you don’t find in Pinochet’s history. Guevara was also a failure everywhere but Cuba, spreading misery and death over many places in Latin America. Pinochet, in contrast, kept his deeds almost entire in Chile. And finally, when one looks at the legacy of these two men, in Chile and Cuba, it’s clear that Pinochet left a vastly better one than Guevara.

Why, then, is Guevara such a hero to so many Socialists, Leftists, and Transnationalists? Various conservatives may have said some unfortunately laudatory things about Pinochet, but that’s a match in a forest fire compared to the praise heaped on Guevara, who even by the standards used to judge Pinochet was a far worse offender. Why is Pinochet so much more hated? I suspect that the standard answer is the correct one, that Pinochet’s real crime was killing the wrong sort of people — leftist intellectuals, instead of disposable peasants and the economically successful, as Guevara did. Or maybe it’s because Pinochet didn’t do it personally — if only he had solved his personel problems with a .32 caliber pistol just like Guevara, he’d be a hero as well.

All just puppets for the stage managers

A recent example of the dehumanizing of non-Westerns by denying them moral agency caused me to realize that this is a natural outgrowth of Socialism. After all, isn’t the root concept of Socialism precisely moving the locus of moral agency from individuals to the State? If the State is responsible for everything, including the impact of life decisions on its subjects, then only the State can have moral agency, because moral agency is really the ability to make decisions for which one is responsible. Viewing people as not responsible for their actions is therefore an inevitable artifact of a socialist viewpoint. Applying that to foreigners is then not a big step but just one more little shuffle in the entire dehumanization that is already inherent in Socialism. No wonder it is such a common thing among the MAL and the TranZis.

Only public radio can bring you this kind of story

On NPR this morning was a report about the fighting in Somalia. The breaking news for the report was rumours that some Ethiopian troops had apparently been killed! Imagine that, a war in which soldiers died. Of course, it being such a bizarre, unexpected development, the NPR reporters didn’t have exact details, but according to the rumours a fighter from the other side had actually shot at some of the Ethiopian soldiers on purpose. I am sure more detail will emerge as the world class NPR reporters further investigate this story.

02 January 2007

There's no Pokemon out in the woods, either

Orrin Judd writes about how an updated version of SimEarth will convince kids to stop believing in evolution —

How are you going to convince kids that there’s no such thing as intelligent design when you only have them for 45 minutes of Biology in 9th grade and they spend three hours a day every year playing games that are premised on it?

I figure, the same way I would convince them you can’t carry 12 different long arms along with full ammunition loads after they’ve played Unreal Tournament, a game premised on that.

Professional courtesy

Powerline has been writing about how the US State Department has known for decades that Yassir Arafat was directly involved in the kidnapping and murder of Americans in Khartoum. The State Department has, of course, denied this the entire time. Just recently final proof from the State Department’s own files has been released, although I am not clear on whether the State Department is still denying Arafat’s involvement (my guess is they have said nothing).

I agree with Powerline that the most likely reason for the denial is that to do otherwise would have destroyed the ongoing negotiations and “peace process”. Given that we have a large government organization willing to cover up the murder of its own employees to keep the jobs, money, and prestige coming, one is left wondering why this memo wasn’t leaked to the New York Times. State lied, people died, after all.

Some are more equal under the law than others

While it was of course fascinating how fragile the Islamic Courts government in Somalia was, I think it was even more fascinating how little condemnation Ethiopia recieved for its actions for violating international law. Here we see very clearly that international law isn’t law in any real sense, but simply an excuse for anti-American rhetoric. One notes that instead the anti-anti-[Caliphascist]s have suddenly started referring to Ethiopia as “Christian” Ethiopia, which apparently (if it’s not the USA or Israel) a better basis for condemnation than violating international law.

The military action does show how the threat from the Caliphascists is almost completely dependent on the tolerance of the targets. I suspect that a major reason the Somalia Caliphascists fled rather than fight is that they knew with how little regard the Ethiopians would treat such things as the Geneva Conventions. I also can’t let the level of delusional hubris required for the Somali Caliphascists to declare holy war on Ethiopia, nor how that makes the “jihad means inner struggle” meme more difficult to sustain.

On the theme of weakness, I can’t but contrast this with Mao’s campaigns in China. The political situations in Somalia and post-WWII China are IMHO quite similar. It just demonstrates how, while the Caliphascism threat is strongly similar to that of Communism, the Caliphascists themselves are just not in the same league.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government is engaging in its own ethnic cleansing campaign, which makes it hard for me to root for them, despite their laudable efforts in Somalia.

01 January 2007

A modest proposal

Over at Diversely We Sail is a post is a post deploring that fading existence of any common standard on modesty. As a moderate fan of the moderate middle, I too find it a sad thing as well.

Naturally, there is intellectual tingle in anticipation of my reasoning on the subject, given my atheistic minarchist tendencies. Naturally, there are several threads that lead me there.

A good starting point is the novel The Diamond Age, one of Neal Stephenson’s better efforts1. One of the key themes in the book is the link between sexual repression and technological / complex civilization. Reduced to an aphorism, it is basically that if people can have sex all the time, they won’t bother doing anything else. It is a view that I find more plausible all the time.

It reminds me of an earlier post about profanity and conversation. To think that immodesty is fine because there’s nothing wrong with the female body is fall in to what is (to me) the same error, that dynamics are useful. If everything is at full volume all the time, there is much to be missed, much subtle yet informative communication that can’t occur. This is also a subject I have touched on before. Modesty is useful even for exhibitionists, because otherwise how can they be such?

Relatedly, there is also the fact that it is not clear to me that immodesty is actually, overall, more pleasant than modesty. The former destroys many joys that can only exist in the presence of the latter, precisely because of the “volume” issue. Variety is the spice of life after all. One might note that this is a failure of burqazation as well, stripping that variety out of life.

In the end, I don’t see modesty as some sort of anti-pleasure grimness, but something that one could argue is pro-pleasure at a more abstract level. Perhaps in the end it is more a matter of asthetics than morals.

1 I have tried various novels in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, but I have not managed to gain the traction needed to push through to completion on any of them.

Anthopogenic global warming becomes a hot potato

Via Just One Minute is an article about how some climatologists are now having second thoughts about jumping on the AGW band wagon.

The article itself demonstrates the grip of politically correct thinking on the issue, starting off with

Amid the shouting lately about whether global warming is a human-caused catastrophe or a hoax

which completely excludes the possibility of global warming that is not caused by humans. Apparently our planet didn’t experience any climatic variance before humans were here to cause it. Still, the article does highlight an alledgedly growing set of scientists knowledgeable about the issue who think there’s a problem but not a looming catastrophe.

What’s interesting is that I have seen what appears to be much more coverage of the skeptics and indirect jibes (such as this) at “The globe is melting!” fanatics. Maybe that hysteria can’t be sustained, or it could be a set up to let the new Democratic Party dominated Congress off the hook for doing very little. It should be an interesting year.

A golden pillar in the sky

Check out this picture of a “golden pillar”. I saw one of these at sunset last month but was driving to pick up spawn so I couldn’t stop and go back for a camera. It was, if anything, better defined and intense than the one in the picture. Extremely cool looking. I don’t remember ever seeing one before and it made such an impression that I would think I would remember it (I certainly remember seeing the green flash many many moons ago).

Originally via Alien Corn.