Thursday, April 29, 2004

Just Holding Up a Sign...

... That reads "Go thattaway." There's not much more that I can add to this post other than I've been trying to communicate these ideas to people for quite a while now.

USS Clueless - The truth is...

A word of advice, before you start reading, go to the bathroom and refill your coffee cup. You are going to be here for a spell.

Attitude Check

Please take a look at the following news story:

The Scotsman - International - Mystery group wage war on Sadr's militia

Now gage your attitude against the following chart:

a) Optimistic (People in Iraq do want a representative secular government)
b) Pessimistic (Just another group of thugs looking to carve out a power base)
c) Opportunistic (Hopefully the Marines will make contact with these people and offer whatever material they need)
d) Paranoid (Who you kidding? You know that its only a team of US Special Forces operating behind enemy lines)
e) Pragmatic (What does it matter why whoever is doing this, so long as it helps end the fighting quickly)

My answer: e

Link via Instapundit

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

For the Geek in All of Us

Not much happens in this little bit of Flash, but here's your chance to briefly wield the Light Sabres of the Star Wars Saga.

Link via Venomous Kate

"I Don't Feel Bitter At All, Why Do You Ask?"

Divorce can leave an ugly legacy. And I don't mean just the pictures. If you are looking for a particularly pricey wedding dress with a history check out this item on E-Bay quickly. Just keep scrolling downward.

Score One for Rummy

Via comes this quote from a recent press briefing by Donald Rumsfeld. Making a note of how some in the media spin the news, he said:

There are two ways, I suppose, one could inform readers of the Geneva Convention stipulation against using places of worship to conduct military attacks. One might be to headline saying that Terrorists Attack Coalition Forces From Mosques. That would be one way to present the information.

Another might be to say: Mosques Targeted in Fallujah. That was the Los Angeles Times headline this morning.

Alright, maybe using the "Terrorists" word would be a bit too right leaning. Let's compromise and say Insurgents Attack Coalition Forces from Mosques. Still gives the proper initiator/responder correlation.

The Inevitable Gas Crunch

Via Vodkapundit comes this article:

Running On Empty (

detailing the situation facing motorists in America. Living in Southern California, I'm used to habing to pay upwards of thirty cents more than the national average for a gallon of gas. What I did not know is that the US is not only a net importer of oil, but it is also a net importer of refined gasoline. Our refineries do not have the capacity to produce all of the gasoline we use. As the government adds more and more requirements for the formulation of gasoline, the fewer and fewer foreign sources will be capable of providing what we want to buy. I would doubt seriously that any of the gas that I buy in California is imported as this state has even tighter regulations than the national standards.

As a free-market libertarian, I'll bite the bullet and stick with my principles. The only way to ride the inevitable price increases is to let it happen. Much as I know that it will slow down the economy in general, allowing market forces to work things out will be the path of least pain. The article's reference to increasing the fuel efficiency mandates would be redundant as people will increase the importance of fuel efficiency in their purchasing as prices rise. Standard engine SUV's will take a big hit, with manufacturing in those lines facing lay-offs and reorganizing. The flip side of that is going to be a harder push toward hybrid vehicles whose efficiencies start in the 40 mpg at minimum, and bigger numbers in that stat will be a key selling point, so look for increases there.

I don't see much expansion in refinery capacity in the near future. The article points out that it takes three years, minimum, to go from planning to production, and that does not take permitting into account with all of its attendant political hassles. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are not likely, in my opinion to get much traction from this unless gas prices hit about $4 per gallon, and then add another five or six years at that level so that the switch-over costs are competitive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

You Call That Evidence?

Today just seems to be a day of random thoughts, so why not go with it?

The way in which a person's bias can be most clearly seen is in the way that person evaluates evidence. I had a conversation over the weekend in which the matter of Bush being AWOL from the National Guard was proven by the fact that Bush could find only one old man who was a general at the time who was obviously partisan while a pile of papers showing that he was paid, had signed in for meetings in accordance with regulations and had partaken of the required physical examinations were not proof to the contrary. While it was never said out loud, the implication was that all of the "evidence" to the contrary was false, that they were lies.

It has been said that the playing of the "Liar" card must bring to a halt any principled or useful discussion. That is because the "Liar" card gives its user carte blanche to disregard any point or article of evidence on its face because of its presenter, not on its merits. Accusations of lying deny the opposition any opportunity to add value to the discussion by requiring that the accusers acceded to any new information being brought to the table.

It is in this way that any bias on the part of reporters becomes important. By deciding what evidence is important to the way a situation truly is, the reporter is the gatekeeper. This has to be done before the information is even discovered, a process that decides which questions need to be asked. For many years, the product of this process was the sum total of all of the information that was included in the public debate. As the ages old computer axiom goes: Garbage In, Garbage Out.


Humans always try to organize their world according to how things relate to one another. We are so good at it that the process tends to get carried away. I confess to falling prey to that tendency as well.

In politics, people slam each other with labels of right and left. If anything, I tend to the barest right of full on libertarian. When I see those who fall into the convenient left category and I listen to their arguments, I discover that I am getting lost more often than not. The problem is one of trying to fit too many points of view into an easy box. So, I'm putting out my list of apparent assumptions of various members of the "left".

George Bush (and his administration) is an idiot.
George Bush (and his administration) is an evil genius.
George Bush (ditto) is a Republican with all of the evil that entails.
George Bush (ditto) is not a Democrat with all of the goodness that entails.

This is a work in progress, comments, as always, are valued more than gold. Not really, and if you can find a way and actually send some gold, I'll be your friend for life.

Monday, April 26, 2004

A Question from One Too Young to Remember.

Take a look at the last things Sen. Kerry said in this transcript of his Good Morning America appearance. If I read the poorly transcribed words correctly, then he is saying that there is no difference between Bush and Nixon.

I'm all for parsing out analogies, so lets try this one on. George Bush has lead us into war in Afganistan and Iraq. Wasn't Richard Nixon the one that got us out of Viet Nam? Shouldn't that mean that Nixon was the one who did what war protestors like John Kerry wanted him to do?

Friday, April 23, 2004

Proper Use of Analogy

Reading through Daily Kos and a round up of Iraq news. Toward the end is a quote from Ahmad Chalabi. The issue is the ban on the Baath Party from any role in the new government. Chalabi said:

"This is like allowing Nazis into the German government immediately after World War Two,"

The poster then wrote:

Someone needs to tell Chalabi about Godwin's Law.

Godwin's Law pertains to the use of overheated rhetoric invoking Nazis in usenet discussions. The implication is that referencing the Nazis was unwarranted, an unnecessary analogy. Let us examine the parellels that Chalabi mentions.

The Nazi Party and the Baath Party were both lead by megalomaniacal leaders.

Both parties outlawed any type of democracy in their lands.

Both parties murdered mind boggling numbers of their own citizens.

Neither relinquished power willingly.

Both were banned from future government out of fear that they would sieze power again.

From the way it looks to me, this analogy is spot on. Certainly better than any of the Bush=Hitler comments I've seen on signs around town, and definitely not deserving of the snarky comment from Dem From CT.

I Couldn't Say it Better

It is always cool to find someone making the same point that I had earlier. The fun in this whole writing business is to see my ideas as they stand in the real world. I went on at length a couple of weeks ago about American Ideals and Interests in Iraq. The thrust was that the war in Iraq did not limit itself to being only about American interests or ideals, but was about advancing our interests through spreading our ideals.

Senator John McCain put it far more succinctly:

"In Iraq our national security interests and our national values converge. Iraq is truly the test of a generation, for America and for our role in the world. Faced with similar challenges, previous generations of Americans have passed such tests with honor. It is now our turn to demonstrate that our power, ennobled by our principles, is the greatest force for good on earth today. Iraq's transformation into a secure democracy and a force for freedom in the greater Middle East is the calling of our age. We can succeed. We must succeed.

We are trying to make our lives better by making other people's lives better. It may seem arrogant that we chose to impose this freedom on others, causing them some pain in the process. If one were to look closely at how things truly were under the Hussein regime, then what we have done is actually a relatively gentle cure for the sickness that was there.

Quote via Andrew Sullivan

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Where's the Street?

During the lead up to the war in Iraq, I kept hearing references to the "Arab Street", the code for Mr. Mohammed Q. Public of the muslim world. Whatever reports we get out of that part of the world are largely unreliable, largely due to the ingrained fear of anything one says being used against them. What occurs to me is that the only terrrorists for which I have heard any great details about, namely the 9/11 19 and the upper echelons of Al-Qaeda, all seem to come from well-heeled, affluent families. Palestinian attackers seem to fulfill the prophesy of the street, but I believe that to be the result of having the enemy in one's face almost constantly. Those who would go across continents to strike at an enemy must be acting on a more abstract, disconnected from the here and now, level. If I recall correctly, all of the 19 were college educated. A cliche about a college education is that it expands your horizons. A person fighting off the pressures of poverty can not look very far beyond his immediate surroundings. If there is an enemy within sight, then that enemy can be targetted. If one has the leisure to pursue an education, then one can contemplate the larger picture and allow that people and places one may never see in person can influence one's life. From this pool are those who will be willing to "fight" in some far off land.

The Arab Street, consisting of those whose lives seldom reach past their neighborhoods, will have it's direct effect on very small scales. As such, it is a valid concern for the CPA. The longer that grievances are allowed to build with an easily identifiable target, the greater the opposition and threat to American troops. That anger, however, would be very difficult to turn to places very far from home. It is much easier to mobilise against a threat in one's own backyard, but much more difficult to go after a target on another continent. Only those who have been trained to think on a global scale can be easily recruited to carry out action on that scale.

Also, the elites who form the cadres of foreign action are more dependant on the street than the street is on them. If rule of law and free markets are successful in improving the prosperity of the Arab Street, then the theoretical lack of will to terrorism will tend to trickle up, either as a reduction of revolutionary fervor in the old guard or as a neuvaux riche class develops and subsumes the old guard.

The Price of War

Everything is economics. Every decision that a person makes takes a cost in what the decision requires, what you can't otherwise do, and whatever penalties come of it, and a benefit in the good things that come and the bad things that don't happen. In Iraq, we are trying to establish the some of the good thing we have in America, rule of law, personal liberty, etc., in the hopes that Iraq can earn some of the posperity that we take for granted and show the rest of the region that it is the structure of their governments and not the US that is holding them in poverty.

If the Iraqi method is to make the situation suitable for the carrot, the Palestinians are learning the sting of the stick. The intifada against Israel is causing vast increases in poverty. Granted, the Palestinian situation was not great to begin with, but when a person has little, they tend to be more dependant upon it. Whatever authority there is in Palestine is going to have to keep an eye out on their own. If they get hungry enough, and see the means to food with the other side, Hammas et al. are going to get a revolution, just not in the direction they wanted.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

So What Are We Doing Here?

I've been out of the 'sphere for a few days now, and the whole "Does Wonkette deserve her rep?" issue seems to the be the latest hot button. The Lovely and Talented Kate throws down not on Wonkette herself but on the discussion of whether the blogosphere is a proper replacement for big media.

I am big on figurative navel gazing. I tried literal navel gazing and am too disturbed by the results to try that again. In that spirit, I am going to pitch in my figurative two cents in:

Bloggers should not seek to replace big media. Perhaps on the whole the blogosphere has the writers, but its forte is not on the level of data collection. I think the best use of blogging is to magnify the individual voices that occupy the innumerable points of view that surround every story. The rate of feedback between fact, opinion, theory, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is the true strength of the blogosphere. If one were to rely on big media alone, then only a few points of view, interpretations of events, could be heard and the discussion would happen at the leisurely (yawn) pace that it always has. In the blogosphere you suddenly have a huge crew working at examining all of the permutations of the data in every philosophical framework imaginable. Those results are fed back into the machine, and reactions to the reactions occur. Not only do bloggers fact check the Big Boys, but they also fact check one another. Ideas that don't hold water die quickly, while the ones that survive first read get acid tested in the previously mentioned every viewpoint possible. The blogosphere is an environment for ideas where evolution has been speeded up a thousand-fold.

So, should the blogosphere replace Big Media? Absolutely not. Why should we limit ourselves to the lower level of mere data collection? Let Big Media continue to seek out "What happened?" The blogosphere is much better suited to question the editorial pages of Big Media, the level where the question is not "What happened?" but "What does it mean?"

This thought brought to you by some guy who might have had these ideas years ago, but you would not have known because he didn't feel like dedicating his life to journalism. Viva Blogspot, the primordial ooze of the blogosphere!

Monday, April 19, 2004

I Declare Shenanigans!

Either that or someone for whom idiomatic english is not their first language came up with this headline.

Link via Andrew Sullivan

Friday, April 16, 2004

Analogous Reasoning

Brian Micklethwait of wrote an entry that pondered the concerns expressed in an article dealing with genetic engineering to achieve states of "better than health". The title he used: Is there perhaps a connection between the dangers of central planning and the dangers of genetic engineering? invokes a method that I use to a great deal on this blog, so I felt that I had to add my two cents worth.

Anything physical can be modeled with mathematics, and in my belief, so can the larger scale entities that evolve from those physical interactions, such as economies and societies. That being said, it does not mean that the math will be easy. Indeed, we have already cracked most of the easy ones such as the laws of kinetics and electrical circuits. Other problems, where we have the equations, are still intractible because of the need for perfect data to predict long term effects (we have the laws of thermodynamics down cold, but we still can't predict weather much past five days).

The difference between these two types of systems lies in the differential equations that define them. The easy differential equations are linear, the derivitives stand as they are. The hard ones are non-linear, the derivitives are squared, cubed, and even greater degrees of weirdness are imposed upon them. These as of yet unsolvable equations are the domain of chaos theory and what has become a whole new field of experimental mathematics.

Getting back to the Samizdata posting, I believe that there are really only a finite number of systems that are seen, systems that have a common number of derivitives that are raised to powers in the same places. This is sometimes found when the results of two different systems can be found to be driven by the same formulas. In one case (I believe this was referenced by James Gleick in his book Chaos) it was shown by a mathematician that the spasmodic movements of an eye due to a particular condition were similar to the motion of a ball in a semi-circular trough that was suspended as a pendulum. That all of the details of the strength and connectivity of the occular muscles did not exactly go over well with the optometrists at that conference.

It is possible that the equations for the biochemistry of the human body and the political operations of a human society may be of similar forms as well (so perhaps that old metaphor of the body politic isn't so far off). If those equations were to be found, and the necessary variable put into their respective places, then the variables that coincided in the similar places would be of a higher level of analogous. For instance, I sometimes picture stock markets and weather systems as being similar. If this were true, then I would believe that the sum total of money in the stock market would be analogous to the sum total of heat in the atmosphere. Both are the driving force within their systems, and all of the actions derive from them.

I am just now completing a promise to myself and finishing my first read of Popper's The Open Society and It's Enemies Vol. I. I definitely agree with his aversion to social engineering for the sake of acheiving utopia, and I too have a similar aversion to the idea of genetic engineering to acheive "better than health". I am more leery than Popper about "piecemeal engineering" however. One of the analogies I make is to propose an identity of the Butterfly Effect and Law of Unintended Consequences. Not to say that ameloriating deleterious effects (there goes by vocabulary budget for the day) is not wise, I would love to get rid of this pesky color-blindness, but that extreme care should be taken when making such changes. Wisdom won't come without pain, and wisdom is needed to avoid yet more.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Apology Forthcoming?

In all fairness, everyone from the military and media who covered this should make as much effort to get this story out as the original arrest and charges got. However, once the public eye turned from the case, the case turned into very little but an embarassment for the Army security services.

Captain James Yee was a muslim chaplin ministering to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. When news broke that he had been charged with aiding the prisoners in communicating for them to the outside world, it just struck a chord with the outwardly turned paranoia of the times. I'll admit that it worked for me with my cynical, Hollywood trained mind.

Today's news isn't even that charges of treason and espionage were dropped. What were dropped were lesser charges of adultery and misuse of a government computer for downloading pornography. Those charges were brought when a first apology might have been in order. Overall, not good for a government that is still trying to communicate that it is seeking a new balance between security and freedom.

Link via Andrew Sullivan.

The Count is Now: 80

I just finished reading the interview: Oliver Stone's Twist - Is the director's latest film soft on Castro? By Ann Louise Bardach, and it just made me irate, hence the add to the count.

Stone comes off as so willing to give whatever rationalization to Castro that he becomes willfully blind. How on earth can he possibly believe that the prisoners would really be honest about how they were treated in prison with Fidel Castro sitting in the same room, hearing everything? Oliver Stone wouldn't believe an eye witness to the Kenedy assassination who has a film of Lee Harvey Oswald firing the gun and Kenedy's brains getting splattered if the guy so much as had a father whose cousin had roomed with a guy who once dated a stenographer for the FBI. Where was I? Oh, right. Evidently Mr. Stone is not one to handle evidence in an even handed and unbiased fashion.

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being that I'd believe he saw Elvis at Burger King if he told me) Oliver Stone's credibility score is a 2. Not a one or a zero, that low and I'd have to doubt that JFK really was assassinated.

Freedom Through Invention

Via Andrew Sullivan comes a link to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. These awards are for inventions that have a great impact due to the use of simple inventions for fudamental problems in the lives of their communities. The link above describes the invention of a method for food preservation by refridgeration that uses no electricity, only a reliance on the simple rules of thermodynamics.

The lifetime of fruits and vegetables using this method, consisting of only two clay pots and wet sand, can be extended dramatically. For subsistence farmers, the difference eliminates the need to spend as much time selling the produce at market. That task has traditionally been done by young girls in the family. Now that their time is more open, these girls are starting to attend school in larger numbers.

With less spoilage occurring, some farmers are finding it possible to stay at their farms and not have to go look for work in the cities. This simple invention has slowed a major demographic trend in the area.

Everyone does what they do given the environment around them. One is only free with respect to physical reality. I can not fly like a bird merely by flapping my arms, nor am I free to get to New York in the next five minutes. With respect to the economic needs of their families, the girls were not free to go to school. Some farmers were not free to stay at their farms.

Technology is the means by which humanity changes its environment. With this blog, I am free to write words that are accesible all over the world at a moment's notice, a power that was only a dream twenty years ago. Some day people might be free to go to New York in five minutes or less provided teleporters are inventible.

Those are grand ideas, but even smaller ideas, like inexpensive refridgeration, can have vast repurcussions. Now that some of those girls can go to school, who can say whether one of them will be the next inventer, or at least inspire her children to invent.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Trends and Prognostications

Predicting the future for anything has always been tricky. Methods such as reading stars and the entrails of sanctified animals never really seemed to be all that effective, and despite all of our best technology, we can't get decent weather forecasts beyond five days.

Daily Kos takes a gander at the tea leaves and is already laying out the script for the right's withdrawal out of Iraq and inevitable ass covering. Aside from any political motivation, I want to examine the "Iraq is going to hell," statement and the trend that it implies.

Just about every prediction you here, be it crime rates, global warming, population, tax revenues, etc., tend to rely on the basis of "If present trends continue..." What strikes me is that very few people seem to realize what a whopping big assumption that is.

If one were to have a quantifiable value of how good things are in Iraq at any given moment, and use that value as the vertical axis with time as the horizontal axis, one could then observe the change of how things are in the country over time. The main thing to notice is that the graph would NOT be a straight line, the rate of improvement or deterioration will change over time. All predictions of the future rely on the graph suddenly freezing at the current rate of improvement/decline, a presumption that is the only one that can be categorically considered wrong. The prediction that Iraq is going to deteriorate far enough for the US to abandon the country is as unsupported by current events as rosy images of a free and prosperous Iraq in five to ten years based on shifting hold-out tactics three months ago.

Above all else remember: We are talking about human beings here on both sides. Each one has free will to exercise the power they have, from President Bush deciding to withdraw, nuke, or anything in between; to al Sadr aceding to the governing council or inciting his followers to martyrdom; to some random dude in the Shi'ite community joining a mob or saying, "Screw this", and going home to watch a soccer match. The impact and obviousness of that impact of each of those choices will vary, as will the size of that impact (Butterfly Effect). Either way, the best we can have is a plan and a readiness to follow through with it with our best considered actions to keep it on track.

As for me, I'll keep ignoring these long range prognostications until someone can tell me for certain if I'll need an umbrella for Thanksgiving.

Monday, April 12, 2004

The Definition of Ambivalence

No, I don't mean watching your mother-in-law driving off a cliff in your brand new H2.

I am definitely of two minds reading this story: - Stamos, Romijn-Stamos have separated

One part of me is sad to see any marriage come to an end.

The other part is trying desperate to come up with a way to discover if Rebecca did her own contorting in the X-men movies in person. This part is going to take me straight to hell, I know.

Information Wants to be Coherent

The term "fog of war" refers to the fact that it's never possible for anyone to truly know what's going on.

So begins an article from Stephen den Beste that looks at how information regarding war is dissemenated to the civilian population back home. He procedes to give a primer on how to read the news and actually come away with a semblence of the truth. His key observation is, "You have to look at a lot of different reports in order to figure out the true picture." While I think he means it as a criticism of the journalists writing the many different reports, I feel that he hit on something more fundamental.

No one is ever going to have the whole story on first read. I feel, however, that all of the information about the story is already available, and awaits assembly, some basic dot-connecting. The difficulty is that the dots for this story are mixed in with all of the dots from other stories and no one has bothered to number them. (I'll put this tortured metaphor out of its misery now and head onto another one)

The way the news and blogosphere are now is similar to the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, wherein several blind men attempt to describe an elephant by touching specific parts of it. When asked what an elephant is, they can not agree and fall into vigorous argument. Whether limited by a small amount of information or by philosophical blinders, reporters and bloggers give facts and opinions derived from a set of data that are far from comprehensive.

I could imagine in the fable that a wise blind man might have listened to each of his compatriots and considered that if each of the men were honest in his beliefs, then it would be possible that each was describing an aspect of the whole, and that the elephant was a totality of all reports. While the image of a combination of pot, ploughshare, blanket, etc., might seem ridiculous, the assembly would still be closer to the truth than any one impression.

That is why I spend so much time considering the differences between the ideologies of left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican. Merely having all of the views is not to have all of the information, because there is information in what report matches with what viewpoint. The blanket, ploughshare and pot would be an accurate description of the elephant only if one knows where each impression belongs. Similarly, if I know the values and premises of the reporter/blogger in relation to my own, then I can add his/her report into the data set in the proper place. Optimally, all of the data that actually describes the event (as opposed to not describing the event, ie mistaken or false reports) will be included and the fullest possible sense of the event can be reached.

That's the plan anyway, stay tuned to see if it works out.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Matter of Perspective

I was taught in a debate class that if one does not understand the position of the other side, then one does not understand one's own position. For that reason I am linking to the Daily Kos and Eschaton, two of the more widely read liberal weblogs (see right). That is also why I take so much time contemplating what principles motivate the various sides of any issue. Knowing how an issue that seems to be one way to me appears to someone else in another position is helpful, but only if I know how that person's viewing position is related to mine. I like the idea that a large number of small scale views give a better description of an object that one single overarching view. The composite view of many viewers is less likely to be manipulated than the one grand viewer. Hearing one person's view is useful, but until I have a fix on where the view should be placed it is like a jigsaw puzzle piece that has yet to be affixed to the rest. I'm in this to learn what I can, express what I have learned and figured for myself, and to have it peer-reviewed. Much like a doctoral thesis, my goal is to add to the sum total knowledge and understanding in the world, one iota at a time.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Damned If You Do...

and damned if you don't.

Gregg Easterbrook nails it with a report from an alternate timeline detailing the impeachment and conviction of President George W. Bush in the summer of 2001. Obviously his actions would have turned America into a true rogue state:

On August 7, 2001, Bush had ordered the United States military to stage an all-out attack on alleged terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Thousands of U.S. special forces units parachuted into this neutral country, while air strikes targeted the Afghan government and its supporting military. Pentagon units seized abandoned Soviet air bases throughout Afghanistan, while establishing support bases in nearby nations such as Uzbekistan. Simultaneously, FBI agents throughout the United States staged raids in which dozens of men accused of terrorism were taken prisoner.

Reaction was swift and furious. Florida Senator Bob Graham said Bush had "brought shame to the United States with his paranoid delusions about so-called terror networks." British Prime Minister Tony Blair accused the United States of "an inexcusable act of conquest in plain violation of international law." White House chief counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke immediately resigned in protest of "a disgusting exercise in over-kill."

The real genius of this piece is that it recreates the blissful ignorance we were living in up to 9/11. I might not have put it this far as to invade a country on a flimsy pretext, but at the very least we would be having hearings on why the FBI had policies that mandated such blatant racial profiling as to arrest Mohammed Atta and 18 other men for merely being Arab and taking flying lessons.

Link via A Small Victory

Update: Thanks to Dan Spencer for the pointer to this article by Kathleen Parker at

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Who Do We Think We Are?

Stephen Den Beste takes a critical look at a report on the atrocities committed by Saddam's regime. The facts of the report are not questioned, merely the author's belief that revelation of the atrocities would take the pressure off of Bush for the failure to find stockpiles of WMD. I respect Stephen particularly for his acknowledgement of his own naivety in having believed the same himself several months ago.

I have tried in the past, more than once, to understand the principles that drive both sides of the political divide in this country. Neither has proven entirely satisfactory, so here I go with another idea that shall satisfy just as much as the last times.

American hubris has been a favorite villain for decades. It has been a charge laid at the feet of the conservatives in our country by the resident liberals since the turn of the last century. In many cases, the charge sticks, the US government has in the past bent it's policies so that a select few could make profits, expanding their Liberty of Property, often in direct detriment to the Liberties of Property and Self of people in the way. That showed the old conservative hubris that the only interests in the world were American interests.

It was, and is, proper to protest such things, especially when they violated American ideals. In the War in Iraq, however, I believe that we actually are, for once, acting on our American principles. Granted, American interests are being served, and that we would not be acting unless they weren't. In this case, American interests and American ideals are congruent, and real good is happening for someone other than just ourselves.

Does this matter to the liberal opponents of President Bush? No. That is because they can only see that some American interests are being served and the fact that some people are being hurt and killed as a result. Whatever good is done, in this view, is thoroughly corrupted by the idea that Halliburton stands to make several millions of dollars in profits from the reconstruction. Its all about the oil, ya'know.

When you see this attitude in Americans, it shows a different type of arrogance. It assumes that the only evil that needs to be considered in the world is American evil. Any evil that happens is the result of past American hubris, and if America takes any action that is not utterly pure of motive, then we shall reap the whirlwind in some later time. America is responsible for Saddam Hussein having the power to do his evil, therefore America is to blame for all of Saddam Hussein's evil. Simultaneously, we can not act to remove him from power because to do so now may serve someone's interests to a greater degree than someone else's or may cause hurt to an innocent third party (most certainly an Iraqi).

The danger of this attitude is that it will paralyze the US from doing anything good for the world at all, because there is nothing the US can do that can not be spun as a benefit for some moneyed interest, real or imagined. The situation of Iraq is strange because Bush is unabashedly seeking to advance US interests by creating an Arab state that can serve as an example that the Islamic world can be improved through democracy and free market policies rather than through terrorism. The war in Iraq will not be won by the United States having more resources at the end of it all, but by Iraq having more resources and a better standard of living by the end of it all. Liberal objectors have themselves all turned around in knots, and far too many have opted to criticize the ultimate objective of American interests being served than the intermediate objective of Iraq become a freer and more prosperous place.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

War in the Media

I happened upon some discussions of the latest outbreak of fighting in Iraq over The view seems to be that the plans of al Sadr and the Baathists in Falluja are calculated to have as much impact on the TV watching public as they are on the soldiers they are fighting.

If that is the case, two can play at this game. I say it is time to call all of those embedded reports back into active duty. The more eyes on the scene, the more difficult manipulation becomes.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Find Some Priorities, Mr. Ashcroft

I had gotten to the point where I had thought that my bad opinion of John Ashcroft was a result of some seriously selective reporting. Now comes this crackdown on pornography that shows me that I should pay more attention to my first impressions. Add this to the story about how the Patriot Act is being used in cases with no connection to terrorism, and you can see my truly deep ambivalence to the Bush Administrations attitude toward law enforcement.

Note to everyone enamored with Federal authority: Get the hell out of my life. I do not need you to worry about what I am putting into my mind (pornography), or what I am putting into my body (super-sized fries). Why don't you just let me mind my own business, and you can mind yours. If what I do offends you or makes you think I am an idiot, let the effects kick me in the teeth. I'll deal with the mess. In the meantime, please keep those freelance oppressors (criminals, terrorists, et al.) off my back. That's what I'm paying you for.

Link via Instapundit.

Enough Already!

Will people please stop trying to make political points off of 9/11, please? In my quest to avoid hypocrisy, I do not hold anyone blameworthy for failing to prevent 9/11. Prior to the infamous date, terrorists hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings was something that might happen. Just as much as an attack on our military and commercial computer systems might happen, or that China might invade Taiwan. In those late 90 and very early 2000 days, any law enforcement agency would have seen an inquest into charges of racial profiling as more likely than an actual terrorist attack on American soil.I did not blame anyone, but trying to pin blame on someone will bias any findings and will prevent the report from actually fixing the mistakes that allowed the event to happen.

Examinations of President Clinton's last national security report show that terrorism was not the top on his administration's list of concerns. So what? It certainly wasn't on mine. Perhaps I am naive, but can people just stop thinking about politics and start getting on with the one thing that the federal government is supposed to do, which is protecting its populace? If mistakes were made, then learn from them, make changes and move on.

Update: Here is what a White House press release regarding the report cited above and about what the Clinton Administration's priorities were:

The report previews the President's national security agenda for the coming year, including: forging a lasting peace in the Middle East; securing the peace in the Balkans and Northern Ireland; helping Russia strengthen its economy and fight corruption as it heads toward its first democratic transfer of power; furthering arms control through discussions with Russia on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and deeper reductions in strategic nuclear weapons; implementing China's entry into the WTO and other global institutions while promoting freedom and human rights there; easing tensions between India and Pakistan; building on hopeful developments between Greece and Turkey to make progress in the Aegean, particularly on Cyprus; securing new energy routes from the Caspian Sea that will allow newly independent states in the Caucasus to prosper; supporting democratic transitions from Nigeria to Indonesia; helping Colombia defeat the drug traffickers who threaten its democracy; fighting weapons proliferation, terrorism and the nexus between them; restraining North Korea's and Iran's missile programs; maintaining vigilance against Iraq and working to bring about a change in regime; consolidating reforms to the world's financial architecture as the basis for sustained economic growth; advancing global trade; enacting legislation to promote trade with Africa and the Caribbean; pressing ahead with debt relief for countries fighting poverty and embracing good government; reversing global climate change.

Two things strike me as necessary to say about this: First, it is a tour-de-force in the use of semicolons; and Second, the US had a shitload of stuff on its foreign relations plate. There was a lot to get done, and if non-state sponsored terrorism wasn't on the top of that list, it might be because it still didn't have the urgency that killing 3,000 people can give an issue.

Link via Robert Tagorda

Monday, April 05, 2004

At Least Some of Them Got it Right

Linked here is a PDF file of the opinions given in a 9th Circuit (California and the other western states) regarding gun show operations. (PDF file, so have Acrobat ready to read it)

That so many of the justices of what is considered to be the most liberal appeals court circuit dissented from the decision to hear a case en banc (to be heard before the whole court for those who don't speak italic) is something of a coup. Lets cheer these judges on so that we might start to get some sense out of these justices.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

TV and Reality

I posted below about how things that can be shown on television tend to have more reality for people than things that can not. One of the ways this happens is that people we have seen on TV occupy a role much like a person you see in the coffee shop every so often.

A few years ago there was a reality series called Combat Missions where a number of active and retired special forces and SWAT members were put into teams and competed in simulated combat situations. One of the men on the show was named Scott Helveston. He was brash, messing with peoples heads and doing a hell of a job of psych warfare on the opposition. I personally didn't like the guy, but he was very effective at taking the opposition out of the game.

Scott Helveston was one of the four civilian contractors, former military hired to provide security for various humanitarian efforts, who was killed in Falluja, Iraq.

Just Out of Curiosity

One would certainly hope that these two stories aren't connected.

Vampire bats kill 13 people in Brazil


Rabies vaccines recalled

Great, in addition to everything else, now I need to keep an eye our mad dogs and whatnot. I much prefer insanity to going mad from rabies.

Even a Stopped Clock...

is correct twice a day.

I try not to be thoroughly cynical. Granted its fun and makes for much better jokes, but I honestly do try to keep a sunny disposition about people. (All comments from the peanut gallery should be filed properly below)

In that spirit, I would like to commend Senator Barbara Boxer (normally the only senator that John Kerry doesn't make look like a John Bircher) for her stance on arming commercial airline pilots. While one can can presume that this has something to do with a tight re-election race, I would like to think that she really is caring about the safety of the flying public.

Alright, its my birthday, and I am trying really hard to keep things pleasant.

Link via Will Collier at Vodkapundit.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Say What?!!

I seldom disagree with Andrew Sullivan, you can find a link to his site to the right. Agreement is never always, however, and he chose a doozy to split with me. To call this type of thinking short sighted is to make an extreme understatement.

One of the main reasons that the United States has had such a strong economy is because of low energy costs, primarily through the use of inexpensive oil. So now we are to emulate the economies of France, Germany, and Japan, even while their economic growth lags behind us and the only thing they have more of is unemployment? It has been noted that the vast bulk of American economic growth has been in small to medium businesses. There, the primary energy costs are not consumed in production, but in transportation. Whether in movement of product or materials, or even the delivery of personnel in more service oriented fields, the cost of transportation is almost entirely derived through the gasoline or diesel that gets put into the tank. With the rise of more specialized small businesses, the need to transport goods in which one company's product is another company's material becomes greater and greater. Increasing fuel costs would require a greater increase in the cost added to the goods along each step of the supply chain. Ultimately, all of those costs get passed on down to the final consumer.

Gas prices are not simply paid by the individual at the pump, everyone pays for it everywhere they buy something that has been moved. That Andrew Sullivan, someone I usually respect for his fical conservatism, would fail to see this is very surprising.