29 October 2007

Attritional victories

According to this article, Bin Laden is implicitly admitting that Al Qaeda is failing do to strategic mistakes and general attrition. That’s been a theme of mine, that while concerns about attrition on our side was a realistic one, few of the critics who harped on that seemed to be able to conceive of the possiblity that our enemies might suffer from similar effects. As many others have pointed out, defeating a guerilla / terrorist threat is generally a matter of slogging through, until it become clear that the defenders are not going to lose, at which point the necessary support for the insurgents disappears. At that point, only massive foreign aid from safe bases can sustain the “movement” and sometimes not even then. I actually had an exchange with a defeatist on exactly that subject a week or two ago, answering the question “how do we win the war?” with “don’t surrender”. Nice to get vindicated so rapidly :-).

Of course, we must be careful of triumphalism, as there are still many ways the occupation can end badly. But recent events like this do seem to put a floor under the amount of badness that could result. And really, given the way the world works, that’s no small thing.

Safe word politics

Via Right Wing News is this Mark Steyn quote

If 9/11 was really an inside job, you wouldn’t be driving around with a bumper sticker bragging that you were on to it. Fantasy is a by-product of security: it’s the difference between hanging upside down in your dominatrix’s bondage parlor after work on Friday and enduring the real thing for years on end in Saddam’s prisons.

Yeah, I’ve been writing about that for years, how so much of what passes for political thought in the MAL is really internal psychological theatre. I just can’t turn a phrase the way Steyn can.

Fashion and resource extraction

Gah, busy busy!

But I saw this post at Hot Air about the skankification of girls in America. It reminded me thatI wanted to spout off some highly abstract and bizarre observation about that, but first I have to say I was very taken by the father in the clip who whines “My daughter says ‘You don’t know anything about fashion’ when I object to her clothes”. Dude, you are so wasting an opportunity. All of my children live in fear of my total lack of fashion sense. I revel in it. Kids not getting dressed fast enough for school? No worries — Dad will pick out some clothes for you. You’ve never seen kids, even a daughter, pick out and put on clothes as fast as that threat makes them move. The selection of clean clothes may look bad, but Dad can always make it worse. A lot worse. And he won’t care because he can’t tell the difference! It all looks fine to him. Of course, being an engineer I have a natural advantage, but I think it’s something in the capabilities of almost all fathers.

Anyway, what I was struck with a while back (after reading this and this) was the similarity of dressing one’s daughters for sex appeals and natural resource extraction. Dressing sexy is easy compared to building up some intellectual and moral capital, although (except for a few lucky winners like Anna Nicole Smith) it’s losing proposition in the long run because it simply exploits pre-existing wealth that one in effect lucked in to, rather than creating wealth which requires a lot less luck.

21 October 2007

Defense of citizens is the duty of the State

It will be interesting to watch the discussion of Turkey’s potential invasion of northern Iraq to counter the PKK attacks. I would like Turkey to not do that, and I think it will further inflame a very tense situation, but how can I dispute the right of a sovereign state to defend itself? As far as I can tell, all reasonable observers agree that the PKK attacks are real (not propaganda or self inflicted maskirova operations) and likely to continue. It also seems to be that the authorities on the Iraqi side of the border have not made any serious effort to stop the attacks. In such a situation it is hard to deny Turkey’s right to escalate. What is interesting will be to see how many people support Turkey in this vs. Israel, since in my view the situations are very similar and hinge on the same fundamental issues.

The oppression of patriarchal consistency

Via KC Johnson here’s another example of how modern Academia engages in public double think, claiming simultaneously no political agenda or bias and a clear political agenda. This is the introduction to the John Hope Franklin Institute’s invitation to apply for faculty fellowships.

The humanities have come to be characterized in recent decades by an overarching concern for politics, from the politics of cultural practices and knowledge production to political issues more traditionally conceived, such as state power, social movements, public policy, and law. As a result, almost all humanities scholarship is now considered political in one sense or another, whether it names its political intention or not […] the predominant way in which humanities research approaches politics today, namely critique: the critique of commodity culture, representational practices, colonial thought, patriarchal structures, tyrannical regimes, racial hierarchies, sexual normativities, and so forth.

It may seem odd to us,but if you were as incapable of relating facts and engaging in logical deduction as these people, I doubt the problem would occur to you either.

19 October 2007

Saving for the future

In the continuing questioning of the timing of the Congressional resolution about the Armenian genocide, the one question I have doesn’t seem to be asked. That is, if the Democratic Party majority in Congress is so concerned about genocide, why aren’t they spending their efforts on the one in Darfur which might yet be stopped, instead of one that’s been over with for nearly a century? Is there plan to provide a similar opportunity for grandstanding and interferring with foreign policy for the 155th Congress? It is just bizarre to hear House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to invert this and use Darfur as the reason to push the resolution. But I suppose that’s what I should expect from a party leadership that values political gestures over any actual results.

18 October 2007

The advantage of social stigma

The Wall Street Journal had an article today about the problem of bundled contributions to political campaigns. That made me ponder the problem for a bit. In my system, there would be no limits on such contributations, which leads to the question of how to avoid the problem. The expectation would be that public knowledge of tainted contributions would serve as sufficient disincentives. One might well think that if the amount of corruption isn’t enough of itself, without the contributions, to bounce a politician out of office then it can’t be all that bad.

Naturally, the reaction of the chattering classes in Old Media is to suggest that new laws should be passed about such activity, just like the previous laws which have proven so effective. In my view, this is simply another form of welfare, of a set of people trying to chunk their own responsibilities off on to the shoulders of Uncle Sam. Old Media has had decades in which to notice and publicize this problem but has brought it up in primarily a partisan way, a means of showing what evil people the GOP is composed of. The problem is that if the public perception is that it’s a partisan issue, it’s mostly happenstance rather than a structural or general flaw. The result are things like the fund raising trail of the Clintons, the exposure of which means that Old Media has to describe it as a “crisis” that is “surprising” rather than something they have actively ignored for so long.

No small part of the reason for the silence is the political bias of Old Media, but I think it goes deeper than that. My view is that this is yet another pernicious effect of the professionalization of journalism. In days of yore, when journalists were ill respected, there wasn’t much to lose from digging up dirt on some A-list politician / socialite. You weren’t going to get invited to any of their parties anyway, so why not? Now, however, the journalists themselves ar professionals, members of the chattering classes, and deeply tied in to that social network. Honest reporting could get you bumped from the good party circuit, socially ostracized, destroy friendships. That creates no small incentive to let things slide. One might be left wondering how much of the political bias in Old Medai, rather than being primary, is a consequence of this, as GOP stalwarts are much less likely to mix in those sorts of social crowds. Perhaps the key advantage of the blogosphere is simply that it has a very fragmented set of social spaces so there’s always some weblogger willing to go public because it’s not his friends who are the guilty.

15 October 2007

Blog Action Day !!1!1!!

I was going to mock Block Action Day but I lost the link while it was sitting around waiting for me to have time to write about it. This years theme is “the environment”, which I will ironically subvert by writing about but in a technophilic way. Ever better technology, that’s what we need, unless we want to go all green rage and slaughter most of the human population.

For instance, orbital solar power is an excellent technology that would do much to help preserve the environment. In the longer term, I would expect a lot of manufacturing to follow the power out in to orbit, leaving Earth as basically a park and residential area. Why so many greenies are hostile to space flight when it would be so environmentally beneficial remains a mystery. But no more of one than how people can dart around the world on private jets while ranting about “carbon footprints”.

Speaking of carbon, there is some very cool stuff going on with graphite these days. There are hints that future computational technology could be carbon rather than silicon based. That’s take care of the green house gasses — turn all that CO2 in to game consoles with the synergistic benefit of making people far more sedentary leading to less driving and food use. Definitely a win/win scenario.

Which leads me to another thought, which is related to the space flight one — why aren’t greens and Extropians allied? Who is more environmentally friendly than the latter? They’d be happy to all move off-planet and colonize the solar system in transhuman form. And — here’s the kicker — no more humans! And isn’t that the dream of most greens, deep down?

14 October 2007

Never a whimper of a doubt

I would like to be able to enjoy the slow twisting in the wind of George Washington University, which spewed a lot of harsh rhetoric about not tolerating “hatred” etc. when some nasty posters were thought to be the work of conservative campus group. Once it turned out that the perpetrators were in fact Muslims trying to frame the conservatives, the rhetoric became far more concilatory. This despite the fact that the actual inicident was worse than originally thought, as it involved fraud and defamation as well.

Why won’t I enjoy this? Because nothing will happen. GWU will stall, obsfucate, investigate, and procrastinate until nobody except the wing nuts like me are paying attention and then issue some token punishment and move on. It’s hard to support principles like intellectual freedom when its putative guardians are so pathetically craven.

In space, the sun shines real bright

So orbital solar power is mainstream enough to get mentioned by Instapundit. It’s good to see people finally starting to realize that I am correct.

However, the problem with predicting when this will really be viable is difficult because the only real obstacle is cost per kilogram to orbit. Everything else is ready to go with essentially off the shelf components. If the effort to build the first system is done primarily by private entities (as opposed to government) the operational experience will drive down the launch costs so that the second one is much cheaper. A positive feedback cycle with each orbital station driving down launch costs thereby providing even more encouragement for the next orbital station. This will result in nothing happening for a long time and then a very steep adoption curve, which leaves a rather narrow window for a successful prediction. The very best thing the government could do to promote the technology is to not build anything, but simply offer to buy the resulting power at a large markup for some fixed length of time. I fear that instead the government will try to run the project itself, stifling the development for decades as it has done for spaceflight.

Desperate times call for desperate logic

According to Alan Colmes, the term “Islamo-Fascism” is hate speech. Why?

It equates an entire religion with fascism. That’s what people object to. It conflates the two, and it’s wrong.

Hmmm. Does that mean the term “African-American” conflates “African” and “American”? So anyone who uses the term is implying that all Americans are African? Or is such a juxtaposition used to make clear a distinction between the set of all Americans and those of historical African descent?

We are left with the question of why liberals like Colmes are so adamant on this subject that they twist themselves in to such bizarre positions. I think it used to be political correctness but now it’s evolved in to something more because the MAL has conflated so much of its political agenda that letting even one strand like this loose could unravel the whole plate of spaghetti logic. Not one inch of the ideological Motherland must be sacrificed!

P.S. The funniest part is Colmes objecting to calling the “Islamic Jihad gang”: “Islamic Jihad”. I guess Colmes knows Islam better than they do.

P.P.S. I don’t use the term “Islamo-Fascism” myself because I think Caliphascism is a superior, more descriptive term as it includes those like Saddam Hussein who use Islam as a rhetorical device.

via BackSpin

13 October 2007

Eye beam

A big headline in our local paper today —

Dems demand answers about Iraqi corruption

I literally laughed when I read that. Yeah, the Iraqi government is corrupt because it acts like the Democratic Party Congressional delegation. Maybe the “Dems” should look in to William Jefferson before going all the way to Iraq. Or perhaps not gutting earmark reform, which seems to be a very bad example to set if one is truly concerned about Iraqi government corruption, as opposed to scoring cheap political points or trying to sabotage the American cause in Iraq.

12 October 2007

Now he's endorsing the French model?

I suspect it’s just me, but I find Orrin Judd’s complete misunderstanding of evolutionary theory endlessly amusing. He gets it spectacularly wrong here, in fact supporting the very opposite of his point.

He starts off with this article about the predictability of general trends of linguistic change for irregular verbs1. Certainly an interesting topic, but Judd loses the thread when he comments

Note that the evolution in question is Intelligent Design.

No, quite the opposite. The linguistic evolution is basically random — none of the actors who change the language design the change. The very predictability is also evidence for a non-designed result. An actual example of Intelligent Design in language is France, with its government department for defining the language. What we observe in practice is that such control doesn’t work, it is overwhelmed by other forces. Not much of an endorsement.

1 Something that came up as a signficant point in my doctoral thesis.

The guilty flee where no man pursueth

Orrin Judd asks, in the middle of defending the slaughter of Armenians by the Turks,

Imagine if the Turks passed a resolution condemning our similar suppression of the Confederate rebellion as a genocide?

I did imagine it and the best I could come up was a big “who cares?”. I’m sure that dextrosphere would freak out for a few days but otherwise it would pass without notice. Is this OJ’s backhanded way of critizing the Turks serious response to the recent Congressional resolution?

10 October 2007

Stop staring at my implants!

Since we’re talking about universities let me drop in this article by a professor in a small liberal college. Critical Mass highlights the story because it demonstrates the hard core racialist perspective of modern academia. What I found much more interesting was this quote —

Back then, fighting for the position as a means to diversify was a bold political move on a largely white campus, anchoring the English department’s reputation for progressive politics.

If one wanted a right wing caricature of the Leftist Academia, one would be hard pressed to create a better one than is confessed here in passing. Concern for the students, teaching, or the university? No — just other people’s opinion about the political bias of the faculty. Odd, isn’t it, that when people like us accuse a faculty of being politically biased socialists, there is an explosion of fury, yet here we have a faculty engaging in active discrimination in order to create exactly that view of themselves.

08 October 2007

Inquiries from a separate reality

Over at Power and Control is this quote

“When we think of going to college, we think of intellectual freedom. We imagine four years of exploring ideas through energetic, ongoing, critical thinking and debate,” Maloney said.

Do people really think this? If you had told me that while I was in high school, I would have stared at you as if you had said “the sky is blue when you’re in college”. It’s not that I would have disagreed, but I wouldn’t (and still don’t) see what one has to do with the other. Do normal people live in some sort of thought suppression field until they escape to college? For me college was effectively a high school with a bigger campus and somewhat harder classes. The transition was barely noticeable. Seriously, is it normally some sort of transformational thing? I grew up in a small, rural town (literally across the street from a farm) in a small (400 total students) high school, which I would think should have heightened the difference. Am I that unusual, or is the college transition an overhyped cultural meme that everyone thinks is true because everyone else says so?

07 October 2007

Barrel Scraping Watch

National Review look at the Democratic Party push back against President Bush’s veto of the S-CHIP act. NR shows that for the astute observer (a definition which excludes almost all of Old Media), the story actually supports Bush. Why? Because the “destitute” family used as an example turns out to be at least middle class, if not upper middle class1. Not to mention that there existed insurance that would have been affordable for people of such means. What I think this really shows is that nationalizing health insurance is motivated by ideology of either the Socialist or “where’s mine?” variety, not any concern at all for the poor.

In a similar vein we have this from Mickey Kaus (no link, because Slate is too technically incompetent to provide links)

Here’s an anguished NPR report on a victim of the highly-touted “E-Verify” system for checking the immigration status of employees. It seems Fernando Tinoco, an American citizen, “thought he was living the American dream.” But at a new job he got a “tentative non-confirmation” for his Social Security number. Two hours after being hired he was fired. And then … he “cleared up the problem” … and then he got his job back. … So what’s the big difficulty? He was … humiliated! Yes, that’s the ticket. Though he doesn’t sound very humiliated in this report—despite the egging-on of the NPR reporter (“They thought you were illegal. … Criminal! But you’re an American.” …”Yes. We’re in America, yes.”) … Remember: This is the best case NPR and the legal rights groups that feed it could come up with. … P.S.: Aren’t honest, law-abiding people humiliated by data base errors all the time—like when credit cards are wrongly turned down, etc.? Is that a reason for blocking what even comprehensivists tout as the most important immigration enforcement tool around? It is if you want to block immigration enforcement, I guess.

I suspose we should stop having drivers license checks too, because once I was detained at an airport for having the same name as someone with an outstanding warrant. As with Tinoco, it was cleared up in a short period of time and I was on my way.

These kind of stories leave me wondering if this is really the best these agitators can do, or they’re that tone deaf, or they think these situations are actual horror stories.

1 For instance, their house is worth much more than mine is and I’m very far from destitute.

Paper of Broken Record

Among the fallout from the Haditha incident is yet another example of how the NY Times is completely unable to conceptualize the USA at war except via atrocities committed by American troops. It is a fact of human cognition that one can rarely think of an abstract concept like “war”, but instead thinks of various reified archetypes of the concept. People with clue have a set of archetypes that contrast in order to better illuminate the essence of the concept. For example, the concept “color” would have archetypes in various colors, rather than just a particular shade of red.

On the other hand, there is the NY Times staff. Its members seemsto have as theid set of archetypes for the “America at War” concept just one — My Lai. It does take much imagination (but apparently more thanthe NY Times staff can muster) to see how limited and distorting that is. But it does explain why that staff latches on to incidents like Haditha because it seems to be the only way they can actually think about the war. The one bright side is that this shows that no matter how disparaging one is about the NY Times, they can still manage to render it not hyperbole.

Sources —

Gateway Pundit has a good selection of quotes from the NY Times illustrating this narrow thinking focused on selecting the “defining atrocity” of the Iraq invasion. Of course, a “defining instance” is simply the single archetype that represents the concept and only an American committed atrocity can do that for the Times. The near endless series of atrocities committed by the Caliphascists is, for the Times, simply irrelevant background, not defining of anything.

The Democracy Project has this indicting quote about Investigating Officer Ware

Mr. Solis said, “we’re left with what appear to be very reduced charges.” He added: “He’s aggressive, and he seems to make his judgments without regard for anything but the law.

As the author notes, the Times treats this as an indictment, rather than praise. I agree that it ends up being an indictment, not of Ware but of the NY Times.

06 October 2007

Acts vs. labels

I have been meaning to note this article about Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s comment to the effect that “there are no gays in Iran”. The author quotes an American academic who makes the same claim, but for very different reasons —

Bulliet noted that it is, in fact, true that Westernized gay culture does not exist in the Arab world, which is not to say that same-sex relations don’t occur. Bulliet cited the book “Desiring Arabs,” written by his fellow Columbia professor Joseph Massad, which basically says the same thing.

I was immediately reminded of the “down low” in contempoary black American culture and I would hardly be surprised to find that a similar kind of cultural definition is prevalent in Iran. I doubt, however, that Iran has resisted western culture to the extent that Ahamadinejad is literally correct.

05 October 2007

It's not a fall in the historical perspective

erp wonders about the ignorance of the editors of the journalists who are lost in a fog of Disney World ahistoricity.

My friend, the Intrepid Girl Reporter, is of my age and my memory of her college colleagues (now editors and senior journalists) is that they suffered from a lot of reality dysfunction as well. It makes one think that the collapse of journalistic credibility isn’t that things are any worse, just that we’re aware of the problems.

That, however, strikes me as too simplistic a view. Let us not be ahistoric ourselves and keep in mind that not so long ago (less than 100 years) journalists were generally considered one step above patent medicine salemen. The conception of journalists as honest, well informed people is the anomalous state, the true propaganda coup of the profession. Like all Potemkin Villages, however, it was doomed to fail in time.

I think that this phase lasted longer than it would have otherwise because

  • There was a much stronger concensus and a much closer alignment of Old Media and its host society, so the bias didn’t grate or matter as much.
  • There was more of a sense of service to America rather than one’s own career (contrast pre and post Watergate).
  • The senior editors were from the non-professional street wise era, rather than products of a reality insulated educational experience.
  • New broadcast technologies were still impressive and this transferred to its Old Media users.

All of those things have changed now and I think it won’t be that long before journalists are once more on a par with thespians1 used car salesmen and politicians.

1 But these days, were treat thespians with even more unwarranted respect than journalists at their height, so that’s not a good analogy.

Last refuge of the incompetent

Continuing on the theme of ignorance vs. ideology, there was an editorial in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week (behind the subscription wall) about the descent of “mainstream” media in to tabloid territory. It used the hook of Brittney Spear’s lastest child custody issues bumping off coverage of minor things like the political turmoil in Burma or the changing situation in Iraq.

It occurred to me this morning that perhaps this is another thing to blame on the spread of alternative news sources and particularly the blogosphere. After all, who bothers to fact check an article about custody of Brittney’s kids? I can’t even be bothered to netsearch up a link to the subject. That means that if you, a journalist, write about that, nobody is going to demonstrate your utter cluelessness to the world. Even better, it’s a subject that requires very little knowledge in the first place which no doubt makes it even more attractive. It’s no different than wanting to hang with the cool kids vs. having to do math problems with the nerds. You do the latter when you have to, but if Brittney walks by you’re outta there like a rocket.

04 October 2007

Pesky little details

There was some report on the BBC last night about the current Korean talks aimed at ending the Korean War (what a quagmire!). Naturally the BBC injected as much moral obtuseness as possible. The one that struck me was the discussion of how the end of the war could benefit the Koreans, because as of now they have such a very difficult time visiting each other across the border, or even making phone calls to separated families. This was done in a completely generic way, as if it was the joint policy of both North and South to inhibit the flow of people and communication. I would not be surprised to find out that it wasn’t propaganda or moral equivalence, but that the reporter really had no idea of the root cause of the blockage, therefore it must be both side’s fault. I won’t even go in to why he would think that the official end of the war would open the borders, just like it did for West and East Germany.

Habit forming

Hot Air reports that the Democratic Party is gearing up to hit the GOP hard over the recent veto of the S-CHIP legislation and that this will be very effective. Even though I agree that the veto was the obviously correct action, I have to agree with Hot Air as well.

But the problem, it seems to me, is not that President Bush is down in the polls, but that he has thrown away any personal and party credibility on fiscal restraint. If he and the Congressional GOP delegation had consistently opposed wasteful spending, earmarks, program expansion, etc., then I think they could have easily weathered this controversy because their story would be consistent with their overall actions. In reality, their story on this is in contradiciton to their normal spending habits and it is that, not the poll numbers, that will make this charge stick on the American Street.

Certain people whine about the triviality of the earmarks, but here is where the real value lies, in establishing an expectation and reputation that lets you get by the hard spending choices.

UPDATE: Instapundit catches up with my cutting edge commentary. It’s nice when he can make it to the party.