28 February 2007

Coping with the causal clutter of civilization

While waiting desperately for the coffee to finish brewing, I saw some promotional literature from some food or kitchen implement box talking about the red dress to promote awareness about heart disease in women. That reminded me of one of my many ideas for improving society.

There are a lot of causes out there these days, each with its own little symbol and colors. There are far more causes than easily recognized colors, so one must now use additional colors and iconography to be distinct. How can one keep track of them all and more importantly, discretely but clearly communicate one’s elevated moral status for supporting them?

I think we should take a page from the military who have been faced with this same problem with the variety of medals that can be awarded. A well decorated soldier has a real problem with wearing them in any but the most formal occasions. What the military did was create a set of ribbons / badges of distinct but compact design, one for each medal (as for example in this chart). This makes displaying one’s awards sufficiently easy to do even for semi-formal occasions without being obnoxious.

Clearly, the various causes could adopt a similar sort of thing. They could be worn on the chest as the military does, or down an arm, or even worked in to a charm bracelet. Not only could these be worn on clothing, but they would also be perfect for badging websites. An enterprising fellow might think of setting up a central clearing house for allocating patterns to avoid duplication. Just as a public service, with minimal fees to handle the unavoidable expenses…

Everyone loves apple pie until you ask "whose apples?"

I was listening to some activist blather on about the situation in Darfur on NPR the other day and how the Bush Administration promised to act but hasn’t. No mention of how widespread “anti-war” activism in the Democratic Party and Old Media might have some influence on that. The speaker then made what I think is her one good point, that while negotiation is nice and desireable, it clearly wasn’t going to be enough to stop the regime in Khartoum, some sort of military action was necessary.

That’s a big step for the kind of activists NPR generally interviews, but it seems to me that if these activists want to actually make a point and create some political debate and pressure, they should push for a war authorization like the 2002 authorization for the invasion of Iraq. If military action necessary, instead of making general appeals, put Congress and President Bush on the spot by backing specific legislation authorizing that military action. Everyone evades the hard choices by remaining vague. The best way to cut through that is to get specific and force people to say stopping the killing is worth military intervention, or not.

27 February 2007

Misread or mis-thought?

While I have already given Mr. Burnett a blanket permission to discredit any quote from Richard Dawkins with only a “Dawkins? Pfft!”, I must say that this screed against him via Brothers Judd made me think that I wasn’t sufficiently dismissive of Dawkin’s work.

I think the author goes on far too long, where there is a far more direct and devastating counter argument to Dawkins, which is that his claim that God doesn’t exist because “anything that can create or design something must be at least as complex as the thing it can design or create” leads immediately to either

  • Evolution is impossible … or
  • Random processes can do things that are physically impossible for a sentient designer.

Ouch! Did the author completely misread Dawkin’s argument, or has Dawkins really descended to that level of incoherence? I value my own brain cells too much to investigate myself.

26 February 2007

IE — It's Ended

OK, I have now given up on IE7. I have tried to use it for months now, and it’s usually a good browser. It crashes more often, but I could live with the somewhat higher failure rate if it, like FireFox and Opera, preserved state across invocations. For the latter two, if it crashes, I lose track of at most a page or two in my most recent tabs. This happens automatically, I don’t have to remember to save anything (although I can if I want). With IE7, if it goes down you have to start from scratch. This is painful for me, since I tend to keep multiple windows each with a bunch of tabs open to pages I am working with on and off. Losing all that state hurts.

IE7 also has some annoying display bugs, worse in some ways than IE6. For instance, the boxes around the dates with posts in the calendar on the main page on this weblog don’t show up correctly in IE7, despite working in IE6, FireFox 1.5, FireFox 2.0, Opera 8, and Opera 9. The funniest bug, though, is one I ran in to over at Tightly Wound. You can’t see this unless you use IE7, but check out this page vs. this page. Notice a display glitch? That’s caused by the “Powered By” line being enclosed in an EM tag. That’s the only difference between the two pages. Experiments indicate that any change in font style has this effect, but not changes in color or even font size. I don’t even want to think about how they coded the layout logic to achieve that effect.

UPDATE: I spent all day today (28 Feb) updating the corporate website with professional looking graphics (after diddling around with it on our own for a year and getting nowhere, we broke down and hired a graphic artist). At least 70% of my time was spent dealing with IE oddities. If I had been willing to live with just FireFox and Opera, I would have been done before noon instead of spending all day in to the evening on it. The only thing that saved me was that IE supports the ability to put in chunks of HTML that are visible only to IE — the hallmark of a clever programmer who knew he was working with incompetents so he put a back door in for other clever people. Thanks, anonymous co-worker despising dude!

It's not the marketing, it's the product

As we watch the washing away in the rain of Representative John Murtha it seems to be yet another illustration of how the leadership of the Democratic Party lacks the concept that there are facts out in the world that can’t be spun away with proper marketing. The theory seems to be that it’s completely unnecessary to adopt any actual pro-military political positions as long as one has someone with military credentials as front man. It’s of a piece with the George Lakoff ‘framing’ embarrassment, another archetypical example of thinking it’s not about the product but only about the marketing. But I suppose there’s no other real option if your only true principle is “I gotta get mine”.

P.S. I neglected to make a note of this recent Geffen-Clinton flap which demonstrates yet again the lack of any consideration of facts on the ground by a major leader in the Democratic Party (see Kaus’ point 2).

American Street 2.0

I am going to return to this post about whether social software on the Internet would narrow or widen people’s views. There are as usual two threads to my thoughts.

The first is that several people mentioned that while they hadn’t been persuaded on big issues, they had in fact had their opinions shifted moderately. I have experienced the same thing, the biggest being coming around to Orrin Judd’s view of the Ownership Society as the best hope for stopping the endless growth of “entitlement” spending.

One might say that small shifts like that don’t matter, but isn’t it precisely the claim of the evolutionists that small changes add up over time? I have always thought that theories of a sudden enlightenment were obviously utopian, but continuous small shifts over a lot of people over time adds up to real changes.

One thing that’s new and I think will make a real difference in the long term is the memory effect of the Internet. Much of the Bad Philosophy that goes around depends on the rapid disappearance of statement proven false by history. But that option is rapidly disappearing. When you can write not just “he’s been wrong so many times” but provide links to multiple, explicit examples, it carries a lot mroe weight. This kind of digging punishes wind vanes and rewards principle, which seems like an improvement to me.

My other thought is related and that is that we may well see a long term narrowing of opinion and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be seen as another effect of the End of History, where certain questions have a resolution — i.e., a legitimate polity requires rule of law, personal liberty, and democratic accountability. If the scope of sane opinion narrowed to that, would that be such a bad thing?

25 February 2007

If I can't vent, why do I write a weblog?

Do you ever read weblog posts from people you consider normal and realize that if they are, you’re not?

I have been following the Duke Lacrosse case on and off. A subject that has come up there recently is the relationship between the faculty and the students. The weblog propietor, K.C. Johnson, is aghast at how the Duke faculty left the lacross students on their own, with almost no support. He reiterates this point strongly here

I think it’s disappointing to me the sort of role I’ve played in this case to the extent that it wasn’t played by professors at Duke. We have 47 guys on this team that are encountering, say, 150-200 professors a year. I don’t know all the players on the team. I’ve met a few; some I like. Nice kids. And you have 200 or so Duke Professors that came into contact with these people, knew they were pretty good people, and chose to remain silent or sign the Group of 88 statement. These guys were targeted in part because they were college students. I wish there had been more involvement by Duke. It’s depressing.

It comes up again here in a discussion of whether the Duke Trustees should intervene to preserve Duke’s good name and keep admissions up. The counter-argument (which seems persuasive to me) is that admissions are doing fine, why worry? I can’t imagine anyone who knows the details of this case sending their child to Duke, but I suspect this is another issue that is big in the blogosphere but with virtually no presence on the American Street, even among the type of people who can afford Duke.

But, back to the important subject, me. It would never have ocurred to me to think that, should I have ended up in anything like this sort of trouble, any professor would notice, much less expend any effort on my behalf. Nothing I experienced during my 3½ years as an undergraduate and way too many years as a graduate student1 even hinted at such an expectation2. Is that me being my usual bitter3 and cynical self? Or is Johnson living in a fantasy world?

1 For instance, no professor bothered to explain to me that being a teaching assistant was considered a red flag because if you actually had any talent, you wouldn’t waste your time teaching but would be a research assistant. I, on the other hand, enjoyed teaching and was very good at it and thought it a normal and expected part of graduate education. Ah, the naiveté of youth!

2 There was one professor who was a that sort of professor, but of course he was punished by being denied tenure despite his outstanding academic efforts for having such an attitude.

3 Oh yeah, describing me as “bitter” is like referring to Senator Clinton as “ambitious”. My dream is to become a multi-millionare alumni so I can ostentatiously donate money to some other department (like Physics — those guys were cool — most of my fond student memories are from classes I took there, even though my major wasn’t even in the same College).

Peace through superior firepower

Bill Roggio is reporting that the Northwest Frontier Territory in Pakistan is becoming a mini-Taliban state. I think that this can only surprise people who haven’t been paying attention.

Roggio thinks this is a bad thing because it will give the Taliban and Al Qaeda fixed based. On the other hand, there are those who think this is a good thing because it will give the Taliban and Al Qaeda fixed bases because such vermin are much easier to kill when they gather in known locations. On the surface the latter viewpoint seems more applicable, but I wonder about whether the USA has the will to take advantage of it. We all know that should the USA start conducting strikes there on a regular basis, Old Media would start reproting civilian massacres the instant the Taliban propaganda guy put out a press release with that claim. The Taliban et. al. have also demonstrated their willingness to pack their military sites with civilians to guarantee either safety or propaganda. So, realistically, I have to side more with Roggio than the fire power enthusiast.

There is also the Pakistan domestic situation to consider. Here is where a willingness to use fire power would help both the USA and the less-of-an-enemy-than-the-Taliban in Pakistan. Musharraf could wait for strikes and then answer complaints with “but this treaty says that I may not intervene in that region”. If only we had the will and a non-hostile media, we could put a very nasty squeeze play on the Taliban — submit to Musharraf or be bombed in to bouncing rubble. One is left wondering how the Democratic Party would spin refusing to declare war on the Taliban mini-state if it becomes effectively a separate state. What an excellent political spectacle that would be.

If only those pesky consumers weren't around to mess things up

Is there a link between modern environmentalism and Transnationalism? Deep Black has a post asking whether one can have “conservative environmentalism”. I can see his point that these are fundamentally incompatible values today, but I think that’s more of a hijacking of the meaning of “environmentalism” than an inherent conflict (just as “liberal” has been changed to be non-conservative and we have to say “classical liberalism”).

What struck me, though, was the parallel to my views on American foreign policy. In broad strokes, both views start with the view that our society is the thing of highest importance. We then attempt to arrange that which is outside to suit our society. In both cases, the long term view is like pays back like. In terms of environmentalism, one should be careful and conservative (in both senses of the word) because it is eventually damaging to our society to do otherwise. Similarily, our interests are not served by abusing and exploiting other nations, but by attempting to elevate them to our own level of liberty and prosperity (see here). The ends do not justify the means because the ends are inextricably affected by the means.

In contrast, for both modern environmentalism and transnationalism, the common countervailing ideology puts a higher value on something outside of our society, either “the environment” or “international law”, both of which are basically mystically received value sets that operate with little regard (if not outright disdain) for humans. I have a theory on why that is, but it will have to wait for the next post.

As a final note, isn’t it odd that an ideology (modern environmentalism) that so disdains humanity makes human judgement of what’s meaningful paramount? What makes a terrestial style ecosystem more meaningful than, say, the environment on Mars? This is also a root cause of one of the key flaws of modern environmentalism, that it worships stasis in a dynamic universe, by elevating what humans have seen and like to a universal preference. Gaia or Mars, the universe doesn’t care — only humans.

23 February 2007

Silly time

I was cruising through a list of the 101 Dumbest Business moments of 2006. Most of them were of the standard, momentarily amusing type but two stood out for me —

TradingMarkets - a Web site that provides its subscribers with professional stock-market expertise for as much as $100 a month - in January invites 10 Playboy models to participate in an investing contest.

When results are tallied toward the end of the year, 40 percent of the bunnies deliver better returns than the S&P 500, compared with just 29 percent of actively managed mutual funds. [source]

Maybe the darts were less distracting.

In September, Greece announces that its gross domestic product since 2000 has been revised upward by an unheard-of 25 percent. The secret to its newfound wealth?

A change in bookkeeping that adds in the nation’s robust black-market industries such as prostitution and money laundering. But becoming “richer” turns out not to be as good as it sounds: The revised GDP figures cost the Greek government as much as $600 million annually in European Union funds earmarked to help poorer nations. [source]

If you can’t spare the dimes, don’t claim the crimes.

21 February 2007

Looks like a grant application to me

Orrin Judd cites a story about the extinction of Neanderthals. The previous theory was that we, homo sapiens, exterminated them. Now the theory that climate change (a Little Ice Age) did them in. I normally resist OJ’s view that there is no objective reality, but doesn’t the change of theory from war like humans to climate change seem a bit too tenor of the times?

20 February 2007

Getting a bit over heated, are we?

The folk at Hot Air are waxing wroth about this report

There are other emerging fissures, as well. The aggressively photogenic John Edwards was cruising along, detailing his litany of liberal causes last week until, during question time, he invoked the ā€œIā€ word ā€” Israel. Perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace, Edwards remarked, was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iranā€™s nuclear facilities.

(For the record, Edwards has issued a denial)

I think what we have here is a severe over-reaction, even though I can’t believe I am writing a post defending Senator John Edwards.

Hot Air headlines this with “Edwards: Israel greatest short-term threat to world peace” which is a serious misrepresentation of the quote it is based on. I think it quite plausible that one could see such a bombing as a serious threat to peace without thinking Israel was at fault. Edwards’ walk-back was about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, but which is really more likely — Iran finishing its nuclear program or Israel bombing them before they can? If you think the latter (which I find a very reasonable view), then what’s wrong with Edwards’ statement?

Now, if Edwards’ proposed resolution was to tell Israel to “don’t worry, be happy”, then one would have a point. Or if he blamed the bombing on Israel’s excessive aggression and Arab hating. But he could as well have followed it with “therefore we, the USA, must fully exert ourselves to stop Iran’s nuclear program efforts before that happens”. Now, I have my suspicions about that sort of thing, but without evidence I think it’s improper to presume them in a public post.

Diversity starts at home

Deep Black had ths post up a while ago, which while an interesting topic rapidly shifted as per usual in to a “men vs. women” discussion. What occurred to me (even more off topic) is the collision between diversity and marriage. If diversity is good, then isn’t heterosexual marriage better than homosexual for that reason? Or does the claim that there’s no difference between the genders1 trump that?

1 Except when some aspect of common male behavior needs to be modified to make an environment acceptable for females. Like, say, pin up pictures in lockers.

What I've been doing instead of providing content

I wasn’t originally much enthused about the Boost Multi-Index Container but I ended up trying to use it in my current project and it is The Cool. The syntax is a bit gnarly but the results make that very worth while. It even fixes some major annoyances in the STL containers that have plagued me for years, the biggest being that you can’t use a member of a class as the key for an ordered container. So if you’re doing advanced work with C++ container classes, check this out.

19 February 2007

Storing up pain for future release

Power and Control has a post about possible terrorists in Georgia. I am skeptical but it’s hardly outside the realm of possibility.

But that’s not what’s interesting. I take it as a given that if this isn’t the real thing, we’ll see it some where in CONUS in the not too distant future. It will also almost certainly be Islamic in nature. There are some who worry about the USA buckling under in the face of such a threat, but I suspect that instead we’ll revert to the brutality that has marked so much of our history. Put that together with incidents like this and you can’t help wondering if you’re seeing an ideology writing itself in to the dust bin of history as thoroughly as the Heaven’s Gate cultists did.

15 February 2007

Even those we've already forgotten

Jeff Jacoby takes the MAL to task for its support of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. What’s interesting is the open support from the MAL of the Khmer Rouge, not just opposition to American involvement. What I can’t believe is that this appeared in the Boston Globe, especially given its specific attacks on NY Times columinst Anthony Lewis. It is interesting to note that the MAL is at least a little embarrased by this, as noted by Jacoby in his concluding paragraph —

Twenty-three years ago, American leftists cheered, justified, and denied as the communists plunged Cambodia into a nightmare of atrocity. In the end, they failed to whitewash Pol Pot’s record. They will not succeed in whitewashing their own.

Sadly. I think he gets the last part wrong because it seems that the MAL has, in fact, whitewashed its own complicity quite successfully.

P.S. Also noted by Random Jottings.

All white washed by a conspiracy so vast …

Via Tim Blair is yet another in the series of fake but accurate claims. One is left wondering, however, if these inaccurate stories bespeak a larger picture of reality, why can’t other, specific examples be found? It seems to me a common debating tactic of the MAL to make these kind of broad claims without being able to cite actual examples of it in practice, which tends to make me doubt the general claim.

Pets and high tech don't mix

I thought that Think of England had been oddly unproductive lately, until today when I found out that apparently the cat had deleted that weblog out of my RSS feed list by walking on the keyboard at some inorportune moment. I frequently have to fix compiler errors due to extra bits of text she puts in my code, so I suppose it’s not terribly surprising that I have to fix other errors. Nothing, however, can compare to the joy of coming back from the kitchen with a nice, hot cup of coffee and seeing the cat laying on the keyboard while my email programming is beeping furiously as a result.

P.S. The cat is named “POset” for partially ordered set. SWIPIAW picked that name. Not me.

Balancing the heating with the chill

Science News magazine had a recent cover story about the dangers of “nuclear winter”. When I saw that I thought “gosh, here’s a way the USA can help save the planet while achieving our foreign policy goals”. What we do is pick a list of cities we don’t like. If the globe gets warmer over a year, then we nuke the 2 or 3 cities at the top of the list. We’d be eliminating our enemies and saving the planet at the same time! Who could object to that?

14 February 2007

Still digging

We got whumped here with some serious snow (2-5 feet over most of the yard). I managed to shovel the driveway clear last week to see it filled in again yesterday. This morning was spent trading off kid monitoring and snow shoveling with SWIPIAW.

Some snow on the flower box on our second story porch

12 February 2007

My country because it's right

There was a very long discussion about a side issue in this post. Originally it was about whether the MAL was critical in the fall of South Vietnam. I had thought that unarguable, as all of the parties involved (the MAL, the conservatives, the North Vietnamese) agreed on this point, that the “anti-war” efforts in the USA were absolutely essential in turning the military debacle of the Tet Offensive in to a strategic victory for the North Vietnamese.

Our dedicated contrarian Mr. Wood turned out to, in my view, to demonstrate the validity of my argument, that many on the left are still not only not embarrassed by this but openly proud of aiding the North Vietnamese cause by opposing the efforts of the USA. My point was that, contrary to those who claim that the embarrasment of causing the debacle in south east Asia in those years might inhibit the MAL in their efforts to assure a victory for the Caliphascists in Iraq, it was in fact the MAL who brought up the Vietnam analogy relentlessly, demonstrating not just the complete lack of any guilt but active pride for those events. I consider that matter settled.

However, the discussion on the post rapidly drifted in to arguments about the propriety of American involvement in Vietnam (the argument against being a key point of the anti-American effort). I am writing this post to clarify my own position, which I am quite willing to state openly — I have no need of obsfucating it.

American national interests above all
I am a national security hawk. First and foremost, I support those actions which best further the national security interests of the USA.
Good government is liberal democracy
I believe in objective standards for government and human relationships. I believe that the best marks of good government are maximal consent and rule of law, these being intertwined values. Liberal democracy is the best currently known mechanism for supporting consent and law and therefore I support it as a mechanism for achieving those ends.
Liberal democracy is good for American interests
While sometimes we may have to accomodate illiberal regimes in the short term, in the long term American national security interests are best served by the spread of liberal democracy with its almost uniform attendant consent and rule of law. I have discussed this at greater length here. Support for illiberal regimes is at best a stop gap measure needful while a greater danger is addressed.
Totalitarian ideologies and their spread are inimical to American interests
Deriving directly from the previous point, Communism and Caliphascism destroy liberal democracy and therefore harm American national security. Their spread causes even more harm. In this such ideologies differ from typical “right-wing” despots in that the latter have a much lower tendency to spread and therefore can be tolerated for longer.
A wise foreign policy does not attempt to right all wrongs or serve all interests at the same time
Resources are always finite, so the real world requires prioritizing threats and interests and acting accordingly. One must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

For these reasons I supported the American effort in Vietnam. I believe that had the USA properly supported the South, it would by now be roughly similar to South Korea, a prosperous and mostly liberal democracy. This would clearly be better for American interests than the current situation. I do not consider the intervention to be one that cost the Vietnamese the right to chose their own government as that was lost when the USSR and China intervened (a point that is desperately evaded by those who argue in favor of the North).

What I find deeply jarring is how much blood and soil nationalism is used by the TranZis. For an alledgedly internationalist ideology, the appeal to “ethnic authenticity” is odd. The “blood” of the ruling class is held as far more important than the actual form of government. I suppose it’s an example of how the circle meets, that the tranzis have gone so far around that they’ve come back to tribalism. It does show just how intellectually bankrupt Socialism is, that it has shed all pretense of internationalism, one of its formerly defining characteristics. I suspect this is because Socialism can no longer use liberty and prosperity to justify itself due to the historically uniform failures in those areas. The case for North Vietnam as expounded by Mr. Wood is a classic, tribalism being the only thing that remains a non-laughable justification1.

1 And even that excuse fails when one examines it closely, given the heavy involvement of foreign powers in bringing the North Vietnamese to power.

Playing to the audience

I have to weigh in on the Obama / Howard exchange and say that I agree with Australian PM Howard, and that Senator Obama demonstrated severe case of reality dysfunction. However, OJ may be correct that politically Obama handled it deftly, because how many Americans actually know how much Australia has supported the USA during WWIV or how outspoken Howard has been? I also think that anybody who does wasn’t going to vote for Obama in the first place.

P.S. Relevant to another post, if you want to see how President Bush could have been more outspoken about WWIV, just review Howard’s comments over the last few years.

09 February 2007

Hard choices make for bad votes

Here’s a poser for you all —

Thinking ahead to November, 2008, and taking this hypothetically, if you could vote for a third term for President Bush, or some other candidate, who would you vote for? Do any of the current plausible candidates seem superior to our current President?

I have to say that, given the current crop, I would very likely go with a third term Bush. As in 2004, there are many many things I don’t like about him, but I have a hard time finding things on which the alternatives aren’t worse.

You can fool all of the sheeple

One of the themes going around about the Edward’s weblogger hires is the concept that the webloggers, by labeling their work “satire”, have taken their audience for fools. I find that a rather tortured view. I think it’s clear that their audience understands the satire claim as clearly a cover story, in the same vein as so many other cover stories required by the MAL in order to function in our political system. This is one of the advantages of such ideological rigidity — which statements are lip service to the unrefined sensibilities of the sheeple is obvious to the vanguard. I don’t think it will cost the webloggers any support, in fact it might be a positive if it is percieved as one more clever ploy put over on the befuddled masses.

08 February 2007

Because it's American, that's why.

Orrin Judd asks about Britian, “Socialism having worked out so smashingly, time for nationalism?”. What I wonder is whether Britian could try some more American, like a federated nation. Why not have England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, form states within a strong federal UK government? Given them all local governments and set up a national government with much more limited powers. I suspect, though, that most of the separatists would prefer that federal state to be the EU, rather than the UK.

P.S. Isn’t that more the norm in the Anglosphere than the unitary government in the UK? E.g., Canada, Australia, USA? I don’t think the UK is any too small to support such a structure.

Not anti-war, just self validating

I can no longer just idly read the descriptor “anti-war” to describe the political movement in the USA opposed to American operations in Iraq. The phrase “stop the war”, used so often, is completely delusional. An end to an American presense in Iraq will intensify the war, both in Iraq and elsewhere (just like the end of American presence in Vietnam didn’t lead to peace, but to an even greater bloodbath in the region).

So, if these “anti-war” types aren’t actually against war, what is the real purpose of their activism? To some extent, I think it’s to create a defeat for the USA the same way they did in Vietnam. But more and more, I have my doubts that most of the activists can think that coherently about the issue. I think it’s actually more about self-actualization, that the defeat of the USA is simply a pretext, not something deeply felt. It’s far more about acting out, cathartic venting of emotion, and feeling important. It’s the form of the Socialist Revolution but none of its vision or intellectual heft, only the visceral team holiganism1.

The question is, then, what would be a more accurate label for this movement? The anti-irrelevant movement?

1 Maybe that’s the answer to this puzzle.

Broken window politics

Hot Air is reporting that GOP insiders think Senator Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite for being President in 2009. I am not sure I disagree. I understand all the negatives that HRC brings to the table, but the dismal state of our current political class makes those handicaps (relatively) less serious. It’s not enough to point out problems with an HRC candidacy, one must show some other candidate with better chance.

On the left, two potential rivals (Senator Joe Biden and former Senator John Edwards) have already inflicted severe damage on their campaigns, almost imploding as they leave the gate. On the right, well, yech. I doubt I could bring myself to vote for Senator McCain over HRC and Rudolph Gulianni has a lot of baggage to bury before he’s a viable GOP candidate. I begin to wonder if Senator Obama doesn’t have a chance, by repeating the Jimmy Carter style “I’m not scum like all the other candidates” mantra.

All of this leads to various GOP supporters making claims about how losing in 2008 would be good for the GOP, by forcing it to start rebuilding as it did after former President Ford lost. I think that’s just another variant of the “broken windows myth”. There’s nothing that couldn’t be done better with a GOP win in 2008 and to claim that a devastating loss is necessary is a very harsh indictment of the current GOP leadership (which is funny because it’s members of that class making this claim).

07 February 2007

Magic revenue sources

It seems that John Edwards is reprising the Walter Mondale strategy of pre-announcing tax increases. I think that will be even less successful than it has been in the past, becaues the citizenry is more aware that “more taxes” means “more taxes on me”.

Edwards said

The only way you can pay for a health care plan that costs anywhere from $90 billion to $120 billion is there has to be a revenue source [taxes]

Any one with economic sense is left wondering why using tax money somehow changes who will actually pay for this healtcare plan. Where, exactly, does Edwards think the money to pay those taxes come from? The tax fairy? At least Senator Clinton is smart enough to claim that a government run health system will save money without reduction in quality, which while highly dubious is at least more plausible than Edwards.

Via Brothers Judd.

05 February 2007

The early brute steals the election

Orrin Judd is pondering whether Russian President Vladimir Putin may have “The Greatness of a Pinochet” because Putin has vowed to have an election after his current term. I had to laugh, morbidly, when I read this quote —

Putin said much more needed to be done to fight corruption and improve press freedom [emphasis added]

As if Putin’s administration wasn’t the biggest threat to press freedom in Russia.

But the idyllic view that as long as there isn’t any suppression during the actul election it’s OK seems to be a standard sort of myopia for Judd. Elections aren’t representative or democratic if the current government suppress, intimidates, or kills most or all of its potential rivals before the campaign. Thus the Juddian view that the 1996 elections for the Palestinian Authority or the elections in Iran are democratic. In real life, however, the rule of law is just as important, to prevent this sort of elimination of opposition that is then legitimated by an pro-forma election.

Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law

Via Just One Minute is an interesting point about the legal fallout from the ongoing trial of Scooter Libby. The essence is that because Libby is being prosecuted for inaccurate statements that

  • Did not concern any actual criminal activity,
  • Did not materially impede the investigation,

then anyone who makes an inaccurate reply to a question during an FBI investigation is potentially criminally liable for that. Therefore, any reply at all to an FBI query is potentially self-incriminatory. The clear implication is that one can and should refuse to reply during an FBI interrogation on the basis of the 5th Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, even if one is innocent and even if no crime was committed by anyone at all. I fail to see that as a good result, regardless of how the trial turns out.

04 February 2007

Unified climatic theory

In the emerging tradition of blaming every non-optimal bit of weather on global warming (warming, cooling, whatever), I heard a story on public radio this morning (sorry, too sleepy to know if it was BBC or NPR) about a drought in Africa that has drained the local resevoirs. It was of course blamed on global warming. One might wonder, however, about this article about a drought in Africa so massive it drained entire large lakes, 70,000 years ago. Or this article about recent research indicating that 10-100 year droughts have been common in Africa for the last 1500 years. Could the current drought be related to these earlier ones?

Nah. Obviously global warming is the only politically plausible explanation.

And you thought office fights over the thermostat were vicious

Both here and here, members of the Juddian Hivemind have objected to investing too much in trying to tweak the planetary climate. I think that’s swimming against the tide. Our civilization is reaching the stage where the technology and wealth necessary to adjust the climate is becoming available. And like every other undertaking, I expect that once we can do it, we will do it. The history of human existence has been increasing control of its environment. Climate control is a logical and inevitable step.

But who, exactly, will get control of the thermostat?

Various technophiliacs (nano-technologists, Singularists, extropians, Web 2.0 fanatics) at times proclaim that their particular technology will solve global problems and conflicts. A common theme in that is that by removing material resources requirements, we will stop fighting over them1. Unfortunately, if you remove a resource limitation, the economy will either expand infinitely or hit another resource limit. The smart money bets on the latter.

In this case, the climate of Earth is a limited resource which will remain limited until we can build more planets. Moreover, there is no globally optimal climate2. I expect some quite sever conflicts over control of the climate, possibly leading to armed conflict (at least in space, where the control machinery will be). For instance, how long with the Canadians be willing to suffer severe winters so to keep vacation mansions in Florida habitable? Perhaps sufficient personal mobility will ameloriate the problem, but I think we’ll have viable if crude climate control capabilities well before then.

I expect that by mid-century we will see the start of resource based conficts that will dominate international relationships for at least a century. These will be

  • Climate
  • Water
  • Free range biologicals (e.g., ocean based fisheries)

We can only hope the mounting disaster that is the EU will sufficiently demonstrate why command and control solutions will make the results worse.

1 For instance, energy independence will stop the fighting over petroleum. Or nanotech will create a world of unlimited plenty.

2 Kind of like the problem in the EU concerning interest rates.

No comments from the peanut gallery

Everyone is abuzz about William Arkin’s ‘mercenary’ posts. I have nothing to add to that, but I was struck by this paragraph in his non-apology —

Bush and company, and the Abizaid’s, Casey’s, and Petraeus’s have had years to make their case to the American people that the threat is so great and the mission so noble that the sacrifice is worth it. They clearly have failed to make their case and that is why the majority of Americans no longer support the war.

While it is certainly the case that the Bush Administration has handled leadership on the issue badly, this statement reveals to me the intellectual bankruptcy of Old Media. The implicit presumption behind this argument is that the President is the only party who should set the terms of the debate and argue for intervention. Other actors, other citizens, are apparently to sit around passively unless the President manages to properly program them with propaganda. Moreover, the role of Old Media in this is to oppose the President. Discovering the facts and providing proper context for readers isn’t part of the mission. The rest of Arkin’s comments on this issue certainly support the idea that average citizens, particularly ones in the military, are not voices that should be heard or considered.

I wonder if this is because of the widespread affection for political strongmen in Old Media, or whether it’s a way to exclude voices that don’t agree with Old Media. Both, probably.

03 February 2007

Absolutely Fadulous

I have to agree with this post that there seems to be a strong increase in efforts to stifle all dissent about anthropogenic global warming. The very idea that something as poorly understood as global climate can be beyond any doubt is exactly what Orrin Judd would call “Scientism” instead of science. What’s ironic is so many of these people are precisely the ones who champion scientific martyrs like Galileo, yet now they are the Church which cannot tolerate disagreement.

It may seem ironic that this clamp down is happening just as dissent is starting to spread significantly (and even the IPCCC is downrating its predictions), but it’s not. I suspect there is a causal relationship, suppression of dissent the natural reaction of a ideology that has peaked and is starting to decline. There is also the problem that once AGW becomes conventional wisdom, a large pressure for feasible responses arises. It’s been clear from the beginning that most AGW boosters were boosters to achieve unrelated ideological results, with AGW simply a convenient banner to wave. With people starting to look seriously at those proposed solutions and realize how infeasible and inferior they are, the precendent of no debating becomes critical.

What it reminds me most of is stock run ups — you know it’s time to get out when your Mom mentions what a hot prospect it is. Time for those in the know to cash in and leave the marks holding the bag.

Who expects the Democratic Party to be pro-American anyway?

Via Power and Control we have some rumours that high level members of the Democratic Party are meeting with Hamas, thereby violating various laws and betraying their country. Even if those people don’t realize this, Hamas does, as a representative of Hamas

refused to elaborate on the meeting and where it took place, claiming that Hamas is not interested in harming the Democrats’ chances to win the 2008 elections.

What does it say when Hamas understands the import of such things more than Democratic Party officials? And that Hamas considers the Democratic Party allies worthy of being protected in this way?

On the other hand, while my source agrees with Hamas that revealing the identity of the official and thereby confirming the rumours would cause great political harm to the Democratic Party, I wonder if that’s true. It certainly didn’t hurt Senator John Kerry or his party when he met with representatives from North Vietnam, a nation with which the USA was at war at the time.

What an amazing coincidence

Via Brothers Judd is this tidbit about Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney trying to escape the fallout from the struggling health care plan in that state.

It is the travails of another former Massachusetts governor running for President, Michael Dukkakis, that makes this funny. Being such a socialist state, Massachusetts gets to experience the party time/cleanup cycle so typical of socialist schemes. Dukkakis ran on the “Massachusetts miracle” which, like Romney’s healthcare plan, started to crater during his Presidential campaign. I am sure the problems with Romney’s plan will turn out to be the result of some Evil Conspiracy™, not the inevitable result of central planning.

02 February 2007

Hearst's Revenge

Everyone has been writing about the NY Times $650M loss for the most recent quarter. At the same time, it seems to me that the bias and shoddiness of reporting at the NY Times is getting even worse. It is always fascinating to me how groups of people can get so locked in to a mindset that they cling to it even as it brings about their ruin. It’s the American auto industry all over again.

However, there are two side issues that one should keep in mind.

The first is that it is very difficult for a large corporation to create a change in the gestalt of the company staff. The staff has less at risk than the corporation because they can get other jobs. In fact, my observations indicate that the egos of most of the problem staff are so large that the idea of them being unemployable is not even conceivable. Even presuming the NY Times management realized the problem, what could they do to someone like Krugman or Dowd1?

The other is that this loss is actually the recognition of an earlier loss. The total write down was roughly $800M, but the NY Times only lost $650M, which means that the real profits for this quarter were about $150M. The $800M was spent years ago, not last quarter, so the impact on the actual running of the newspaper is minimal. Perhaps the management, given the issue in the previous paragraph, thinks that the best they can do is keep a much smaller but more loyal audience.

I think that strategy may fail, because the radicals are getting ever more radical and splintery. It may not be possible to find a large enough niche to support a newspaper the size of the NY Times where it’s not too biased for non-delusional left of center types yet isn’t called a shill for the Rethuglicans by the radicals.

1 Beyond locking them in to a restricted area of the NY Times website so that they don’t embarass the newpaper in front of non-believers.