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May 24, 2003

Apollo Redux? Not Likely

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Transterrestrial Musings talks about NASA's plans for the Orbital Space Plane, which is "intended to provide crew and limited cargo access to and from the International Space Station." Apparently, NASA is considering an Apollo CM-inspired design, because of all of the problems that NASA has had with winged orbiters and OSP designs.

The problem is, you see, that this is not just an upgraded Apollo CM. It would be a completely new design, that happened to be a capsule with the same pitch as the Apollo CM. The structure would be new, the controls new, the atmospheric system new, the heat shield new and so on. While this would still likely be cheaper than a fully-reusable winged system (and that should scare you if you pay US taxes!), the real problem is not with the wings. The problem is that NASA has forgotten how to design effective spacecraft. No matter what the technical requirements are, the primary drivers of any NASA program are political: what will offer the best shot at keeping NASA funded, and preferably increasing the budget.

As a result, it is almost a guarantee that any large NASA program will fail. Only small programs (like the "faster, better, cheaper" missions) have a chance of escaping notice long enough to succeed. The history has been that as soon as they succeed, they get escalated into big follow-on programs which generally fail. I don't see that this will be any different. Indeed, the visual similarity to Apollo is most likely more showmanship than technical requirement. Apollo has a good legacy, so clearly it's in NASA's interest to play up that angle. In real terms though, given the mission requirements, a split-pitch capsule (with barely-sloping sides near the base, then sharply-sloping sides further up) would likely provide a better ballistic shape.

But that is probably all academic, since it is likely that NASA will add a significant cross-range requirement to the project, in order to provide flexibility. At that point, a capsule can't meet the requirement.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

May 23, 2003

The Path to Victory

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

This article by James Webb, courtesy of the Braden Files, talks about the end of the Viet Nam war and the part played in it by the hard left and the entertainment industry. The history of that ending is perhaps the most ignominious chapter of American history, but not for the reasons most people think.

This so-called Watergate Congress rode into town with an overriding mission that had become the rallying point of the American Left: to end all American assistance in any form to the besieged government of South Vietnam. Make no mistake—this was not the cry of a few years earlier to stop young Americans from dying. It had been two years since the last American soldiers left Vietnam, and fully four years since the last serious American casualty calls there.

For reasons that escape historical justification, even after America's military withdrawal the Left continued to try to bring down the incipient South Vietnamese democracy. Future White House aide Harold Ickes and others at "Project Pursestrings" ... worked to cut off all congressional funding intended to help the South Vietnamese defend themselves. The Indochina Peace Coalition, run by David Dellinger and headlined by Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, coordinated closely with Hanoi throughout 1973 and 1974, and barnstormed across America's campuses, rallying students to the supposed evils of the South Vietnamese government. Congressional allies repeatedly added amendments to spending bills to end U.S. support of Vietnamese anti-Communists, precluding even air strikes to help South Vietnamese soldiers under attack by North Vietnamese units that were assisted by Soviet-bloc forces.

Then in early 1975 the Watergate Congress dealt non-Communist Indochina the final blow. The new Congress icily resisted President Gerald Ford's January request for additional military aid to South Vietnam and Cambodia. This appropriation would have provided the beleaguered Cambodian and South Vietnamese militaries with ammunition, spare parts, and tactical weapons needed to continue their own defense. Despite the fact that the 1973 Paris Peace Accords called specifically for "unlimited military replacement aid" for South Vietnam, by March the House Democratic Caucus voted overwhelmingly, 189-49, against any additional military assistance to Vietnam or Cambodia.

The campus radicals, then the students and now the professors, aligned with an internationalist media hostile to the very idea of America, were successful in persuading the Democratic Party, along with a few very right-wing Republicans, to stymie South Viet Nam's efforts at self defense. These very same people, and their ideological adherents (in academia, the media and the entertainment industry), were the loudest voices against American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and likely will be the loudest voices against any future American moves overseas, either to defend ourselves or to bring freedom to an oppressed people. So were these people right then, and are they right now, and what should we do about it?

I read a biography of Creighton Abrams, the theater commander in Viet Nam from the late '60s into the early '70s. The biography discussed in some detail the ineffectiveness of large-scale maneuver warfare, and how Abrams changed the US methods, and in the process basically won the war. The new way of fighting was so effective that by 1971, Abrams was able to travel alone in a jeep, with only his sidearm, from near the border with North Viet Nam all the way to Saigon. He encountered no troubles along the way. And yet, at the point where we had beaten the VC completely, and held the NVA off so that they were unable to beat the ARVN troops in guerilla warfare, we simply withdrew. Not simply withdrew; we also reneged on all of our agreements to support the South in any way, as the Webb article states. In other words, there is not really a question as to whether or not we could have won the Viet Nam war; we did win it. Then we went home and watched from the sidelines as terror descended. That was our defeat: we simply refused to live up to agreements that would not have put a single American in danger. We gave away South Viet Nam and Cambodia rather than spend small amounts of money. We mooted the blood sacrifice of 59000 Americans and even larger numbers of Viet Namese over what amounts to the irate indignation of college students, reporters and movie stars!

Today, those who architected our defeat in Viet Nam want to repeat the performance. With Communism all but dead as an alternative to capitalist representative democracy, these idiots and fools want us instead to surrender to its pale cousins, transnational progressivism, moral relativism, postmodernism and multiculturalism. The hard left wants America to abandon the moral position that freedom is better than oppression, as they convinced us to abandon such a position in Viet Nam. By cheapening our patriotism, lessening our dedication to freedom, and bathing us in self-loathing, these "intellectuals" hope to make us powerless, as they are powerless. Are we better than the Islamic militants? Are we more authentic? Are we more pure? They want us to surrender, in the end, to them, to allow "our betters" to lead us as only they can, down the path of France into historical irrelevance. As long, that is, as they have tenure, a good story and our unconditional worship of them. If the price of that is dhimmitude, they are willing to have us pay it.

We must not surrender to these whispering (well, shouting, really) voices of defeat and despair. We can refuse, and here is how: we must cut off the indoctrination of future generations. (Reality will, over time, take care of the vast majority of those already indoctrinated, as long as they are unable to gain political power in the meantime.) We can do this by:

  • demanding that our media give us unbiased information, by choosing alternatives that do so. In other words, force the media to live more in the real world.
  • not allowing Federal or State funding for universities, except in the form of scholarships to students. This has the dual effect of making universities more responsive to students, and removing a layer of automatic support for whatever idiocy professors wish to spout. In other words, force the Universities to live more in the real world.
  • not listening to entertainers pronounce on subjects other than entertainment. At least, no more than we would any other random person.
  • home schooling our children, forcing districts to abandon the PC educational fads, or implementing school choice. Each of these measures increases the need for public schools to live in the real world.

The combined effect of these actions would be to reduce the influence of radicals, whose voice is magnified by their presence in media, educational establishments, and the entertainment industry. Over a generation, the reduction in that voice of despair would be rather dramatic, and I believe that such a change in our society would allow us to bring real peace to the world, by removing every single dictatorial government anywhere on Earth and replacing it with a representative government and free-market economy based on the ideals of the Enlightenment. No lesser goal is worthy of us, and indeed no lesser goal will remove the threat to freedom posed by unaccountable despots. Only by eliminating the voices of unreasonable doubt can we tackle such an ambitious goal.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Compelling Interest? Uh, No

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Noshin Hoque, a two-year old girl in Michigan, will likely be dead within two years. The reason for this is that she has a tumor in a rather inaccessible part of her brain. It turns out that surgery has a 70% to 80% chance of either killing the girl or blinding her or leaving her a vegetable. So far, this is just a tragedy, but the government wants to make it worse, if possible:

But now prosecutors have taken the Hoques to court to force them to go ahead with the surgery in a case that revisits the question of who should decide what is best for the child when it comes to lifesaving medical treatment.

"There's no other outcome but death, without surgery," said David Gorcyca, prosecutor in suburban Detroit's Oakland County. "I think if I'm a parent given a 30 percent fighting chance of survival, I'm taking that shot every time."

I wonder if Mr. Gorcyca would like to reflect on his statement a little longer? If he can "take[] that shot every time" than why cannot another parent, such as the Hoques, decide not to? More to the point, how would he feel if his child were in such a situation, and the state decided that it was cruel to do surgery that had a 70% to 80% chance of failure, and therefore not to allow his child to have surgery? It's not all that farfetched; once the government gets power over an area, there's no reliable way to control how it uses that power. (Case in point, why does regulation of interstate commerce give the government power to ban guns on school grounds? Hint: it takes more than two years to overturn a bad law - the girl wouldn't have the time to go through that process, even assuming the state didn't force the operation anyway, while the courts were considering the case.) And if the state can determine what medical care you must give your children, what can they be prevented from forcing you to do to/with your child? How is forcing you to get specific medical care for your child different, for instance, from forcing you to feed your child a particular diet, totally against your will?

Even if you believe that the state has a compelling interest to see that every single child is treated according to the advice of doctors, rather than according to the desires of the child's parents, then what is the compelling interest in this case? Given the high odds of the surgery's failure, the decision to have this particular surgery is surely a judgement call. I have a hard time seeing any case where the government should be getting into judgement calls about very risky procedures.

This is a travesty, and should not be allowed to happen.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Killing Joy

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I think that this - a story of kids burning down a playground - is terribly sad. There have been such incidents in this area as well, as recently as last year. I don't understand the mentality that leads someone to do this, because it is a very infantile reaction - wouldn't it be cool to see something this big burning? - and I was raised by adults to be an adult. It is one of the great mysteries in life why apparently well-meaning people would ever have come up with the idea of kids raising kids. I suppose they just didn't think of it that way. But that is what it is: you take a baby and put her in daycare, and there are maybe two adults around for most of her day (and they have no emotional attachment to her); you see her for a few hours each night, while you're trying to get her to bed so you can clean the house and maybe unwind from your own day, and for the weekends; then you put her in school with one adult and thirty kids her own age, and you see her less on weekends - and even week nights - because of soccer or band or whatever; and one day you find out that your little darling has become physically capable of burning down a playground and has all the moral restraint of a twelve year old who has never had any meaningful adult supervision (or, put another way, all the moral restraint of a bully with a gun in a land of rich rewards and no punishment). Where did it all go wrong, you say? How could this have happened?

My wife stays at home with the kids while I work, and I work from home three days a week. Our boys - we have four - are constantly around adults who care deeply for them and will correct their behavior as it happens. We homeschool. We play with the kids and follow their interests. We attachment parent, which means among other things that we try to mold our and our children's behavior to avoid punishment, and to fit such punishment as is necessary to the "crime" that necessitates it.

If we fail, if our children some day burn down a playground, there will be no question where the fault lies. But there's something funny about that: we won't fail. Our kids simply are not allowed the mindset that would allow them to be destructive in this way. But this is not a mindset that can be instilled in a teenager burning down a playground; it has to be instilled in a toddler breaking his brother's toy. There are no do-overs in parenting.

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Kevin Drum at Calpundit has an article about taxation which is worth reading. He also references Henry Waxman's excellent example of how to lie with statistics. I'm not going to discuss the chart in detail, though, because I want to focus on why taxation exists, where revenue can come from, and what our tax options are. I hope thereby to clear up some of the confusion both in Mr. Drum's post and in his comments. In particular, I want to show why those whose views differ from Mr. Drum and his commenters have not "completely run out of ideas on economic policy," do not "mistakenly think they are among the top 1%," and are not necessarily "hypocritical, deceitful scum."

As a matter of first principles, the absolute requirements of the Federal government are to:

  • conduct a census (necessary for many aspects of representative government, Art 1, Sec 2)
  • regulate the structure of government, and ensure the good behavior of government officers (Art 1, Secs 2, 3, 5 and 6)
  • regulate Federal elections (Art 1, Secs 4 and 5; and Art 2, Sec 1; and several amendments)
  • enact laws as needed to carry out the powers of the Federal government (Art 1, Sec 7)
  • pay debts incurred by the United States (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • provide for the common defence and general welfare (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • regulate commerce with foreign nations and between states (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • regulate naturalization (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • provide uniform laws in specific cases, such as bankruptcy (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • coin money, regulate the exchange rates of the currency, and standardize weights and measures (this was done to ensure that trade would be transparent and fair, Art 1, Sec 8)
  • provide for communications between various parts of the country (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • provide intellectual property protections (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • enforce the laws (Art 1, Sec 8)
  • raise and regulate the Federal military and regulate the various milias (Art 1, Sec 8)

To undertake these functions, and other functions which some may prefer to be done by the Federal government, but are not absolutely necessary (for example, unearned entitlement programs), the Congress must raise revenue, which Article 1, Section 8 entitles them to do. The methods by which the government might raise revenue include taxation of the states; duties, imposts and excises; user fees; sale of goods and services; taxation of organizations; or direct taxation (that is to say, the taxation of individuals).

The Federal government uses all of these sources of revenue except, I believe, for taxation of the states. I have no doubt that good arguments can be made for and against each of these sources of revenue, on the basis of the amount of revenue raised, the fairness of the method, the intrusiveness of the method, and other factors. I'd like to specifically talk about direct taxation of individuals, since that is what is at issue in Mr. Drum's post.

The one argument which is undeniably in favor of using direct taxation of individuals is that it raises a lot of money. The arguments against it - especially in its present form - are legion. The basic categories of arguments that I would make (I'm sure there are others out there) against the current income tax code are: it is intrusive, it is unfair, it is excessive, it is too complex, and it is uncontrollable.

Intrusiveness: The current Federal tax code intrudes into many aspects of private individual behavior. Because of the number of exceptions, exemptions and provisions, the Federal government needs to know a huge amount of detail about your family structure, your health care, your provisions for retirement, your will, your inheritance from others, your investments, where and how you spend money, your business and personal undertakings overseas, your cars, your house, your travel plans and on and on and on. And every single bit of information that the government knows about you is a method (and sometimes a reason) for intervening in your life and influencing or regulating or even prohibiting your choices.

Fairness: This is probably the biggest area of disagreement between supporters and opponents of the current tax system. The entire idea of progressive taxation grates on me. The argument advanced in favor of progressive taxation is that it is "more fair" because "the rich can afford to pay more." I don't buy it. I'm pretty solidly middle class, my brother is poor and I have friends who are quite wealthy - on the low end of actually being rich. Should I, on going to a store to buy bread, pay $1.25 for it, while my brother pays $0.20 and my friend pays $7.00? If you support progressive taxation, how could you disagree with this? After all, it gives a break to my poor brother, while my rich friend and I can afford to subsidize my brother's purchase. (By the way, if you think that this is not going to happen, you haven't been keeping up with corporate experimentation in online "smart pricing" arrangements.)

Obviously, in order to charge this kind of pricing, the corporation would have to be rather intrusive, not unlike the government, into my personal business. But I'm not trying to make the intrusiveness argument here, and I fail in any case to see why it's worse for a company to know my income than it is for the government, since I can choose to take my business elsewhere.

So from a fairness standpoint, I don't see a difference between the two practices. They are both massively unfair. My ability to pay for a thing should not be the determinant of the price of that thing. My ability to pay the government should not be the determinant of what I pay the government.

Excessive: I pay a significant fraction of my income in taxes. This is money that I would otherwise use to get out of debt, buy things my family needs or wants (anyone who wants to donate a storm shelter, email me, 'kay?), educate my children (we homeschool, so we don't benefit from the property taxes we pay, either, at least to the very large extent that such taxes finance the local public schools), save for my retirement, save to start a company of my own, and so on. In fact, if my taxes were cut in half, I'd end up being out of debt in one fourth the time - literally - that it will take me as is, assuming I only put half of the new money into debt repayment.

Now the Federal government does a lot of things I would rather that they not do. Some of these things I think are blatantly unconstitutional, while others are just not the proper role of Federal government. However, I would not argue that taxpayers have the right to withhold their money from programs they don't like. I note, though, that these programs consume some 50% of the Federal budget, and that share is growing. You can make the argument that the government has to do more, and thus needs more revenue, and thus needs higher income taxes (since that's how revenue can be generated in the largest amounts); but I would counter with the argument that I cannot see anything in my list of least-liked programs whose elimination would make this country a worse place to live. Indeed, the country would be a freer place.

Complex: I have a pretty simple tax return. I don't own a farm, or my own business, or engage in sophisticated financial deals. I don't have complex and involved medical care; my medical care is straightforward; and my real estate holdings are limited to my primary residence. Nonetheless, it takes me about six hours to do my taxes each year, with the aid of a computer program designed for the purpose, and I am never sure that I've done them correctly. In fact, I am pretty timid about which deductions I claim, even if I appear to be entitled to them, because I don't want to trigger an audit and have to defend every single thing I put down, with the presumption of the law being that I am a tax cheat until I can conclusively disprove to the most ardent sceptic that I wasn't trying to cheat the government out of the 8 cents credit I got on books donated to the library. Not that I'm bitter.

Uncontrollable: Every form of taxation except direct taxation has a limit to its effectiveness, and almost all are totally avoidable, given a desire to do so. For example, let's say the government taxes the sale of food. I can choose less expensive food, to lessen the tax, or even to grow my own food and eliminate the tax entirely. But what is to limit the Federal government's take of tax on individual incomes? The only way to avoid this taxation, since everyone has to earn a living, is to leave the country or vote out the entire Congress en masse. Given the way that disctricts are drawn, you'd be advised to leave the country. Worse still, since the government doesn't allow you to write a check every quarter if you are working for a corporation, you don't see the tax bite very well. It's hidden. This of course reduces the resistance to income taxes, which reduces the chance to change them.

On top of that, the income tax is heavily concentrated on higher income earners; so much so that about 50% of the people pay no income tax (note: I am not referring to Social Security/Medicare, which are theoretically earned entitlements - just the income tax portion). Well, if half the people are not affected by raising the tax rates, then it is not unreasonable to expect that " the hoi polloi in America are so undertaxed that they can vote themselves just about anything, knowing that it won't cost them a dime." Except that the dynamic isn't about what people will vote for, but what they will not vote against. Suppose a politician is contemplating a tax increase that will win him X votes in people affected by the spending that tax increase enables, and lose him Y votes from people paying heavier taxes. As long as X is larger than Y, the politician's incentive is to vote for the increase. Given that half the people are basically in the X category as it is, the increase in taxes has to actually start reaching down into that bottom half - rather than just soaking the upper half further - to really increase Y. On the other hand, massively increasing the taxes on the top few percent of income earners likely increases Y not at all, while massively increasing X. All in all, the politician's incentive is to soak the rich. Of course, "rich" gets defined further downwards all the time.

So, while I agree that it is necessary for the Federal government to raise revenue, our current system is the worst possible way to do so. At the very least, we should shift taxation from individuals to the States, where the taxation of any given State is proportional to its relative GDP. Those States could then decide how to meet that revenue need - to what degree to tax their citizens, use other methods, reduce spending themselves and so forth. On top of this, the States have the power to limit the Federal government's take, by threatening to call a Constitutional Convention to amend the Constitution to define that take. And if you end up not liking your State's choice, you could move to a more amenable State. This shifts the incentives pretty nicely.

There are other schemes that would be even better, in my opinion, but frankly the more attractive they are, the less likely they are to get passed.

I suspect that most people could agree that the government needs revenue. Strict Libertarians would likely not agree that a direct tax is a reasonable way to raise revenue. Small 'l' libertarians would likely agree that direct taxes would be OK, as long as they were fair and not terribly intrusive (for example, a flat tax which has a high individual exemption) would be reasonable. Very conservative people would argue that spending needs to be cut dramatically as programs are shifted back to the States or eliminated entirely. Somewhat conservative people would argue that spending should be cut somewhat as programs are made more efficient, or combined, or eliminated if they are not working. Somewhat liberal folks would likely demand that spending cuts not happen on programs which "benefit the people," while defense spending and corporate tax abatements (which presumably in that logic do not benefit people) should be slashed, and many small exceptions should be created as needed for "fairness," "justice," or "compassion". Strongly lefty types generally seem to argue that taxes should be raised and concentrated on fewer people, with as much effort as possible spent to ensure that all people end up with the same material outcome regardless of their input.

I fall in the small 'l' libertarian and mildly conservative bands.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

UN Moral Validity? Hah!

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David Warren makes an interesting point about the evolving Bush Doctrine:

The U.S. is not ruling out future roles for the United Nations or its agencies, in the reconstruction of Iraq or on any other front. The Bush administration has simply ceased, as a matter of routine, to recognize the legal or "moral" validity of U.N. pronouncements.


Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack


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Bigwig at Silflay Hraka links to a "soulmate calculator". Apparently, I would have to meet 73,374,971 heterosexual women (and Dustbury thinks he's in bad shape!) between 22 and 40 years old to find a soulmate. Apparently, intelligent women with a good sense of humor, optimistic, not unattractive and somewhat spiritual and compassionate, who are not of a monotheistic religion or currently in the middle of a breakup, are fairly difficult to find.

I found mine in high school, and she is the only woman I've ever dated. Maybe I should play the lottery, too...

Stephanie, just up from the beach, looking like a parrot

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Misdirection, or Just a Hyperlink?

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Either way, go read about Magic.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack


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Mark at Sha Ka Ree has some good points about the tax cuts. I think that there is something else, though, that needs to be pointed out: a company pays dividends out of cash on hand. As a result, Enron could not have happened to a company paying dividends. If your bank account doesn't have the money, the checks don't clear. If you are not paying dividends, though, and need the stock value to go up to keep investors happy, you tend to think very short term, and the incentive is to oversell the company's viability. Enron and Worldcom have a lot to do with tax law changes made a decade or more before these scandals.

I don't think that people really invest much in companies any more. Instead, they largely put money into 401Ks and other accounts that insulate them from the companies they invest in. People aren't really taking a risk on individual companies, but instead on the skills of fund managers and on general economic trends. This means that people don't get the benefits of investing well, although they are actually risking a large amount of their money. Of course, they also don't run as large of a risk of losing everything, so maybe that's a good thing.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Towards a Final Solution

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Little Green Footballs has this article in the JPost. The money quote from the JPost article is this:

The US administration prepared a list of sanctions it would impose against Israel if Israel refuses to implement the 'road map'.
US officials said the sanctions list includes a reevaluation of Israel's use of US-made weapons in the Palestnian [sic] territories, and the withholding of emergency aid, reported Army Radio.

This is pretty scary, if true, because what it actually does is push Israel towards barbarism. You see, if you are an Israeli leader, you have to be thinking right about now that the Palestinians sincerely want to kill you, your entire family, all of your actual and potential descendants, your fellow citizens and in fact everyone who shares your religion, race or nationality. As a result, you might be unwilling to give substantial concessions in return for vague Palestinian promises of future consideration of possibly making a symbolic gesture. This is particularly true in light of the fact that the same authority which is making those promises is simultaneously awarding money and accolades to Palestinians who kill themselves in an attempt to kill you. This is even more particularly true since the US has spent the last decade pressuring Israel into doing just this, and Israel has given up numerous real concessions and has so far gotten virtually nothing in return.

Now, since Israel is vastly more powerful than the Palestinians, it is reasonable for you to believe that it's worth the cost for the small chance of real peace. But consider, what happens if there comes a demand upon you which would be considered by every Arab to be a capitulation; like, say, removing your security forces from the Palestinian areas? Since it is only through this presence that you've been able to keep the violence from escalating out of control, removing the troops would almost certainly lead to an immediate killing spree.

This demand actually comes fairly early in the "roadmap" process, and is only predicated on the Palestinians stopping the attacks within Israel proper (not within the Gaza Strip or West Bank). Given that the history of "the peace process" has been that if the Palestinians agree to something, they are given credit for it even when they are clearly not living up to their agreements, you as an Israeli leader might think that it is likely that pressure will be brought to bear on you to remove your best protection against Palestinian attacks even while the Palestinians are still attacking you.

In that case, would you refuse to pull back your security, knowing that it would cause the US to impose sanctions against you, or would you withdraw, knowing that you were thus condemning dozens or (more likely) hundreds of Israeli men, women and children to a grisly death? For myself, I know I would keep my security in place, because as an Israeli leader, I would not allow my people to be once more led to the charnel house. If the US actually imposes sanctions in such a case, it is clear that Israel will become weaker over time. The US can impose real restrictions and costs on Israel, and these costs and restrictions would surely weaken Israel at the same time that the Palestinians would be growing stronger, due to the inevitable influx of cash and weaponry that happens every time the "peace process" seems to be making headway.

Now, again assuming you are the Israeli leader in such a situation, do you allow your country to grow weaker while your mortal enemy grows stronger, or do you take action? The reality is, the Israelis are incredibly moral people, and they would almost certainly take a substantial increase in civilian casualties before they would do anything drastic. But eventually, if Israel were to continue both to weaken and to suffer more losses, the time would come to make The Choice: it's us or it's them. This would have to be done before the balance of power shifted too far, and before any external power began to station "peacekeepers" on the ground, or Israel would be unable to take such action without risking its own destruction from its neighbors or from outside forces committed to the "peace process" at any cost.

When the time comes to make The Choice, no human would ever willingly watch his people destroyed, shattered, driven out into a hostile world. Where would the Israelis go, if forced to leave? There is no other place where they would actually be welcomed - not even in the US (not by the millions). At that point, I would rather be anything than a Palestinian, because the might of Israel loosed in such a small area against a lightly armed population would be Old Testament Biblical in nature.

And the blood would not be on Israel's hands, but on America's.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

May 22, 2003

SARS, or Piracy - Whatever

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Bigwig goes overboard with SARS, pirates and China. No, really!

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

No Toast without a Fire

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My lovely wife has a bit of an issue with toasters. When she was a teenager, she almost set her house on fire making toast in a toaster. Since then, she has made toast in the oven. And so, today, of course she caught the oven on fire. In honor of this occasion, I would like to present a parody of Bad Company's No Smoke Without a Fire:

No Toast without a Fire

Ooh, you like buttered toast in the oven
You can forget sometimes to take it out, ooh yeah
You come running just as fast as you can, but you've forgotten again, yeah

But you can do what you wanna do now, tell me what you wanna say
You can take what you wanna take, babe, take it all away

Oh, there's no toast without a fire, and there's no bread without a flame
Oh, there's no loaf without disaster, but I'll put it out again

Ooh, you've got a problem with burning bread
You just forget until it's blackened and dead, ooh yeah
You keep tellin' me the toast is alright
You disappear, and the oven comes alight

Just tell me what you wanna do now, now that the stoneware is gone is gone
It's your toast, you can do what you want, baby let me know


Please don't ask me why
'Cos I can't quite explain, I'm like a moth to your flame


Yeah, just tell me what you wanna do now, now that the stoneware is gone
It's your toast, you can do what you want, baby let me know, yeah

(chorus) - let's talk about it

(chorus repeats out)

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May 21, 2003

Fallen Patriot Fund

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The Fallen Patriot Fund collects money, and distributes it to families of military personnel killed or seriously wounded during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The fund is part of the Mark Cuban Foundation, and all money is to be disbursed to families. I work for the Bank of America, which is in some way associated with this (at the very least, you can donate at a branch), and I am going to check tomorrow to see if they will match funds. If they will, I will take up a collection, to maximize the matching. Otherwise, I'll just donate individually. You can too.

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One Perfect Moment

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In the Summer of my sadness
In the Spring of your embrace
In the moment of my madness
There's a state of perfect grace

In the lifetime of our loving
In the blinking of your eyes
In the Autumn of our years
There will be magic and surprise

In the instant of reaction
In the Winter of my soul
There's a deeper satisfaction
When two parts become one whole

In perfect thought and action
Synchronicity released
In the torrent of four boys
There is a perfect point of peace

And if I never said I love you
Quite as often as I might
Then let me tell you now
You are one perfect glimpse of Light

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May 20, 2003

A Pet Peeve

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If one's goal is to create an equality of opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, one will fail to attain one's goal as long as one insists on basing all meaningful decisions in whole or in part on race. After all, if race is always taken into account, race will always be taken into account. Just sayin'.

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Criticism of Military Technology

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Porphyrogentius has some comments on military technology, which reminded me of an incident in the mid-1980s. At this time, the M2/M3 Bradleys were new equipment, and not yet proven on the battlefield. A report on 60 Minutes examined the Bradley, and found that it presented too large of a target on the battlefield, didn't hold a large enough number of troops in each unit, was too heavily armed for an infantry carrier, was not heavily enough armored for a tank, was too heavy to move around on the battlefield, and outpaced the truck-based supply convoys. In other words, it was too big, too small, too powerful, not powerful enough, too slow, and not slow enough - all at the same time!

I never watched 60 Minutes again. I figured if that was all they had, they weren't worth the hour.

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May 19, 2003

Journalism and War

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Phil Carter at Intel Dump points to this fantastic article by David Zucchino, who was an embedded reporter in the war. (use laexaminer/laexaminer to read the article) The article makes a few interesting points:

Not since the Vietnam War have journalists worked so closely with soldiers in combat. The embed, in which reporters live 24 hours a day with their assigned units, was instituted on a limited basis in Afghanistan after the heaviest fighting had ended. Expanded, it was to be the grand journalistic experiment of the Iraq war

Actually, it was pretty rare in Viet Nam for reporters to work closely with units in the field. Instead, the reporters would usually drive out from Saigon or wherever they were based (at least some were in other cities) to find a firefight to report on, then drive back in the evening. Obviously, there were exceptions to this rule.

The coverage of the blatantly anti-war reporters in Viet Nam (possibly it would be more accurate to note that there were decent reporters there as well, who frequently were edited out by the newsrooms back in the States) led to the military deeply distrusting the media. Of course, the military had been in a position of lying to itself through much of the Viet Nam war, because of political pressures from the Johnson White House, and so the military also lied to the journalists. There was bad blood both ways. In the end, though, it was the American people who lost out. There were no reporters at Desert One, or with the troops in Panama or with the troops in Desert Storm or with the troops in Mogadishu. Because of this, the American citizens lost out on the ability to really see what our military was doing. I think that a huge amount of credit has to go to Secretary Rumsfeld for overturning this long-established animosity and integrating journalists into the forefront of combat operations.

During seven weeks spent with half a dozen units, I slept in fighting holes and armored vehicles, on a rooftop, a garage floor and in lumbering troop trucks. For days at a time, I didn't sleep. I ate with the troops, choking down processed meals of "meat, chunked and formed" that came out of brown plastic bags. I rode with them in loud, claustrophobic and disorienting Bradley fighting vehicles. I complained with them about the choking dust, the lack of water, our foul-smelling bodies and our scaly, rotting feet.

Frankly, I think that this is the genius of the program of embedding journalists. It will be more true in the future than in any generation since WWII, that our journalists will empathize with the troops. While those journalists may disagree with some future policy, it will be very hard to get someone who has served alongside the troops to criticize those troops themselves unless there is serious cause. This can only be a positive for our nation.
Most important, I wrote stories I could not have produced had I not been embedded -- on the pivotal battle for Baghdad; the performance of U.S. soldiers in combat; the crass opulence of Hussein's palaces; U.S. airstrikes on an office tower in central Baghdad; souvenir-hunting by soldiers and reporters; and the discovery of more than $750 million in cash in a neighborhood that had been the preserve of top Iraqi officials.

Yet that same access could be suffocating and blinding. Often I was too close or confined to comprehend the war's broad sweep. I could not interview survivors of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. soldiers or speak to Iraqi fighters trying to kill Americans. I was not present when Americans died at the hands of fellow soldiers in what the military calls "frat," for fratricide. I had no idea what ordinary Iraqis were experiencing. I was ignorant of Iraqi government decisions and U.S. command strategy.

Embedded reporters were entirely dependent on the military for food, water, power and transportation. And ultimately, we depended on them for something more fundamental: access. We were placed in a potentially compromised position long before the fighting began, and we knew it.

This is a tradeoff of course. The viewpoint that the embeds brought to the public was one which most of us hadn't seen before, hadn't even in most cases read about. The thing to remember is that there are still reporters who are not embedded, who are capable of reporting on the broad sweep, on policy issues and so forth. And if the journalists are skilled and resourceful, there will be journalists reporting from the enemy trenches as well. Reporters have proven that they will take risks to get the story. It is surely a greater risk, and also a rarer story, to be in the enemy positions under American attack. Such an enterprising reporter could find stories about civilians after being caught in a fight, or of the defeated (or even victorious, in some cases) enemy.

The US military has provided reporters with that which the military can provide: access to US military operations. It's a bit of an overstretch to ask the US military to provide access to the enemy military operations. It's also possible to cover the grand sweep of the story - but not while you are embedded. That viewpoint brings home the immediacy of operations, not the sweep of vision of the war planners or the civilian strategists. The article points this out, in fact.

This newspaper, like many, also assigned reporters and photographers to Iraq who were not embedded with U.S. troops. They covered what we could not -- the Iraqi government, civilian casualties, humanitarian crises, military strategy, political fallout and everything else beyond our cloistered existence.

I think that, as we begin to unravel the unprecedented access journalists had to cover this war, we will find that we have the most personal story we've ever before had of a war. I believe that this can only be for the good.

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The Intellectual Property Myth

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Aubrey Turner is conflicted about intellectual property, and uses the infamous (at least among geeks) XOR patent. My wife, earlier today, was complaining about the "copyright Nazis" on a homeschooling mailing list who scream "infringement" at everything. This is to the point that a person making a derivative product based on a well-known education-technique book was being taken to task on the presumption that the product wasn't "authorized".

We have created a system where the majority of powers and rights (collectively, let's call them Liberties) were vested in the individuals, with limited and enumerated powers granted to the States and the Federal government by their associated Constitutions. Those powers granted to the government (in our system, governments have no rights, just powers) were basically those necessary to guarantee the people's rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (which includes property rights). However, the Founders recognized that certain additional powers should be granted to the Federal government, in order to create a better society. These powers included the ability to create a postal system (to enhance communications), the power to regulate commerce between the States (to prevent interstate wars over trade) and the power to "secur[e] ... to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries", but only "for limited Times," in order "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts."

The whole idea behind copyrights and patents was to encourage authors and inventors to write and invent. To encourage this, such people were given the sole right to their works, which means that they could make a profit off of the work. But this ability to profit was limited in time, so that an author or inventor could not retire from the profits of one work or invention. Thus, the author or inventor would have to create new works or inventions. In the meantime, the transfer of previous works or inventions into the public domain would "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," because now anyone could use those images, ideas, and methods.

You see, "intellectual property" doesn't exist: it's propaganda. Property is something I can deny you the use of. If I take your radio, you cannot listen to it. I have stolen your property. If I sing your song, or copy it to a CD, or give it away, I have not stopped you from singing it, or using your copies in any way you like, or even selling that song and making a profit. Thus I have not stolen from you, because songs are not property in any meaningful sense of the word.

It can still be argued, though, that it is a good idea to allow people a limited monopoly over works of art, books, actual representations of factual data (as opposed to the data itself), and ideas subject to patent. Granting such a monopoly encourages people to create new things. However, these rights must be balanced. Works must fall into the public domain while they are still available, so that they can be used and preserved. Rights must not be extended into areas where they make no sense; for example, it should not be possible to patent a discovery of some naturally-occurring organism, or part of an organism, or way of doing business. Rights should be granted to individuals, and should perish more quickly if held by organizations. Rights should only survive the rights holder long enough to remove an incentive for murder; not to grant a boon to the rights holder's grandchildren as is today the case (life + 70 years is, according to a recent Supreme Court decision, a "limited Time."

In actual fact, I do believe we have gone too far in granting these rights. We have three choices. Either the Supreme Court can strike down laws granting excessive rights on the basis that they do not meet the test of "promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts" or "for [a] limited Time[];" or Congress could wake up and begin to restore the balance between rights holders and the general public; or eventually people will take it into their own hands to redress that balance.

File sharing on the Internet is a warning shot. It has always been the case that people will seek redress and justice outside the system when the system does not provide them satisfaction. Indeed, that's one of the primary reasons for government to exist. If copyrights are not scaled back, people will begin to violate them wholesale. At this point, it will become virtually impossible to find a jury to convict someone of copyright violations. As far as I am concerned, that is as it should be. The law exists only to serve the needs of the public. When it does not do so, it should be abolished or ignored.

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May 18, 2003

The Founders' Constitution

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OK, Zenpundit owes me hours, nee days of my life for this link to the Founders' Constitution. Basically, the Founders' Constitution is the entire Constitution, with an incredible amount of backing information from addresses to various legislatures and groups, the Federalist Papers, various writings of prominent politicians at the time and so forth. It's amazing the things that can make me very, very happy.

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May 17, 2003


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Radley Balko has a fine article on the FoxNews website, wherein he talks about the original meaning of the word "liberal."

I think that he has a point, but the only way "liberal" will ever reacquire its meaning in the US is for a party representative of classically liberal values to organize itself as the Liberal Party. Otherwise, liberal will basically just be another word for leftist.

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May 16, 2003

Making America a Better Place

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John Hawkins asks, "Theoretically, let's say you could get any five pieces of legislation passed that you wanted. These could either bills that are already in the pipeline in Congress or that you could write yourself. What pieces of legislation would you pass?" I'd like to comment on some of his answers, and add a few of my own.

Abortion - This doesn't make sense to me. If you want to do this, it's better to take a generalist approach, it seems, and declare that the Congress may set a single condition to determine when life begins, a single condition to determine when one becomes an adult, and a single condition to determine when life ends. Until and unless Congress acted otherwise, these conditions would be: life begins at the point that 50% of babies would, if delivered, survive for at least 6 months; adulthood begins at age 18; death occurs when a person is unable to survive without the assistance of a machine, and has been for at least 10 days unable to declare himself alive. Any act of government would be prohibited from making age/life condition distinctions other than that a person is alive, but not an adult; is a live adult; or is dead. This would both maximize the protection of lives (including unborn children killed when the mother is mugged, for example) and minimize the intrusion of government into medical care.

Balanced Budget - OK, as long as it includes the phrase "except in time of war" - this might require additional amendments to clarify war powers, such that "war" could not continue indefinitely.

Confirmation - I would again prefer to be generalist about this: The consent of the Senate, where required under this Constitution, shall be deemed to be given unless, the Senate having been in session for less than twenty days since the requirement for consent arose, the Senate affirmatively acts to withdraw such consent.

Flat Tax - If we're going to have direct taxes, a flat tax with a large deduction per person is the best way to do it. I'd rather eliminate direct taxes, though. If a Convention - because, let's face it, that's what it would take to do this - determined that insufficient revenues could be raised under these terms, it could allow the Federal government to tax the States and Territories, and allow the States and Territories to tax their residents.

Race and Gender - Glenn Reynolds' proposal doesn't go far enough. No act of government, nor of any entity recieving government funds, should be allowed to consider race or gender.

Illegal Aliens - I would only support tougher enforcement of immigration rules if the rules were much more open and much less arbitrary. In fact, I would prefer that it take an act of a judge to prevent a person from entering the country, except in certain well-defined circumstances (such as they are engaging in illegal activity, like smuggling, while in the act of entry). We have always been open to immigrants, and I see no reason to stop now. Of course, we might want to, as a parallel policy, start offering statehood to nations and provinces of nations. The money we would expend, for example, fixing Mexico's problems would pale in comparison to the good we would obtain from spending less on enforcement and incorporating Mexicans into our society and workforce. That act alone would dramatically reshape the immigration debate.

School Vouchers - Nope, bad approach. If we are talking wishes here, let's just prevent the government from enforcing a government monopoly on education. Let any child be educated in any way that their parents desire. The school taxes will be apportioned so that the amount necessary for the maintenance of a public school infrastructure would be granted to the government monopoly school district, while the rest of the money (which now goes to supplies, salaries and so on) would be divided among the parents of school-age children - as vouchers if you prefer - which can be used for educational materials and supplies or for tuition. Government schools would be required to take a student on in exchange for the full allotment granted to the parents for that child. Private schools could charge more, or less. Homeschoolers could spend the money on supplies, curricula, books and media or what have you.

Term Limits - It would be better, again, to be generalist and to define instead what constitutes a Congressional district. Make each State legislature define the districts such that there is a minimum total boundary between districts, and they follow where possible established physical (roads or rivers) or political (county lines or city limits) boundaries, and the districts vary by no more than 2% of population from each other. A redistricting plan could only be challenged in court by someone who could prove that a plan exists which follows existing boundaries and has a smaller total boundary length or a more-even distribution of population.

Tort Reform - no arguments there

Other changes I'd like to see implemented:

Transfer payments - Congress shall make no law which disburses money from the Treasury other than for goods received or services rendered.

Monopolies - The government should not be allowed to maintain to themselves, nor grant to others, any monopoly power, except for copyrights and patents.

Intellectual Property - No grant of copyright or patent should be allowed to exceed 25 years under any circumstance.

Direct Election of Senators - Scrap this, and give the States power over their own destinies again. The States should choose their Senators; otherwise it's just a less responsive House of Representatives.

Gun Ownership - The government should be required to train each member of the unorganized militia, at that person's request, in the use of small arms, and should provide a rifle for each such person. (Note that the unorganized militia is basically the body of all adult citizens, excluding felons and certain other classes of people.) The government should not be in any way able to prevent, limit or otherwise infringe on the rights of individual citizens to own any weapon (other than nuclear, chemical or biological weapons) that they are capable of operating safely and responsibly.

There are probably more, but those are the big ones. Personally, I wouldn't have the Constitution say anything about abortion, or include the balanced budget requirement. Even so, any of these proposals would make this a more free and just society.

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Prospects for Peace West of the Jordan

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The good Emperor is a tad bit miffed at the Palestinians, which reminded me that I was going to comment on the Israel/Palestine situation.

It is inherent in human nature that, when a dispute arises, each side will attempt to meet as much of its goal as possible. In civil society, where each party feels a responsibility to the other, or to be fair, or at least to avoid violence, such disputes are negotiated away until each side gets some of what they want. This is true both in interpersonal relationships, and in relationships between nations.

This is why, when the US and Canada wrangle over fisheries protection, neither side is completely happy when its done. On the other hand, relative power of the nations notwithstanding, neither side is ready to fight over the issue either. Similarly, if France and Germany have a policy dispute, they no longer resort to force of arms, but go to the European Court or some similar body to get the issue worked out. Neither gets everything they want, but both get some of what they want.

This system only works when both sides believe that they cannot get any more through negotiation, and are unwilling to resort to violence. Usually, when one side of a dispute is vastly more powerful than the other, the less powerful side will give in, and hope for the best, because that's better than being forced to give up not only what the dispute was about, but more besides. When both sides are nearly evenly matched, and at least one side cannot obtain their minimum demands, there is a serious chance of war. Obviously, if the situation is that the less powerful side refuses to meet the minimum demands of the more powerful side, there is also a serious chance of war.

But there is one circumstance when the weaker side has an advantage: if the stronger side is a liberal Western representative democracy, and if that state repeatedly suffers the opprobrium of the rest of the world (which it cares about, because it is after all a liberal Western representative democracy), then it is possible that the stronger side will not be as willing to take, or even inflict, losses on the weaker side. It is possible that the stronger side will suffer moral doubts about its right to resort to violence to solve the issue. It is possible that the stronger side will not be convinced that the losses in blood and treasure are worth the benefit to be gained.

In the dispute between Israel and the Arabs, the positions are frequently fogged over, but are really fairly clear-cut. Israel's minimum demands are:

  • Sovereignty - Israel must continue to exist as a sovereign state
  • Security - Israelies must not be at risk simply living in Israel; further, Israel must have defensible boundaries

The minimum demands of the Arabs are a little less clear, because there are multiple parties to the dispute on the Arab side. Here are some of them:

  • Territory - the Syrians want the Golan heights back, to protect Damascas; the Egyptians don't want the Gaza Strip back; the Jordanians don't want the West Bank back; Hezbollah, Hamas and similar groups want all of the territory west of the Jordan river; the Palestinian Authority may or may not be satisfied with the lines prior to the 1967 war
  • Destruction of Israel - as mentioned above, most of the terrorist groups, and probably the Palestinian Authority, want Israel to cease to exist; on their way to that, they might be willing to take a partial settlement, as long as it is so odious that the Palestinian people won't decide that's good enough and stop there. "Right of return" is just a way of destroying Israel more slowly, and so falls into this category.
  • Convenient Distraction - for all of the Arab states, but perhaps none more pressingly than Syria and Iran (now that Iraq is out of the picture), Israel's mere existence provides an escape valve for domestic pressure. We're not the ones oppressing you, our brothers; it is the Israelis. Once the Israelis are stopped, we will be able to share with you the riches we have plundered from you, so go and kill Israelis instead of overthrowing us.
  • A Sovereign Palestinian state - The Palestinians have repeatedly made clear that they will not accept a separate state politically, but disarmed (with Israeli armed forces operating as freely in that state as in Israel).

So let's take it from the top: how could Israel meet its minimum demands, without infringing the minimum demands of the Arabs? There is an immediate conflict between the Israeli demand for sovereignty and the demand of some Arabs for the destruction of Israel. The other issues appear amenable to some compromise, so let's start with the other issues.

Israel is already at peace with Jordan and Egypt, leaving Syria/Lebanon and the Palestinian Arabs as the only sticking points. (Believe it or not, the current situation is a distinct improvement over 1973, for example.) Of the two, Syria seems at least somewhat rational, so let's look there first. In order for Israel and Syria to reach an accomodation, there would have to be a territorial compromise on the Golan Heights. As this would likely leave Israel pretty vulnerable, it will be necessary to make this peace a very strong one.

But, it is also the case that Syria would then have to deal with the issue of its own people, as well as Hezbollah and other terrorist groups it supports. These groups and people have been conditioned for 55 years to think of Israel as a disease that must be eradicated. If Syria were to make peace with Israel, it would have to find some way of pacifying its own population and hosted terrorist groups, or those groups would organize that population to overthrow the Syrian leadership. In other words, the prerequisite to peace between Israel and Syria/Lebanon is that Syria must cease supporting terrorism, evict terrorists from Syria and Lebanon (no proxy warfare allowed) and open up its own society somewhat. It may or may not be possible to do this without a Syria-US or Syrian-Israeli war. Clearly, if a US invasion were to replace the Syrian regime with a representative federal republic, peace between Syria and Israel (as well as the creation of an independent and non-aggressive Lebanon) would be a virtual certainty.

So, even the easiest option for an improvement of the situation will require Syria to take some fairly hefty steps towards domestic liberalization and shutting down terrorists. This is pretty risky for Syria, as it could literally lead them into a civil war. For that reason also, should Israel have to deal harshly with the Palestinians in order to resolve the situation, Syria would be unable to liberalize or cease support for terrorism, as the risks to them would become too great. Even if there were already a peace agreement which included neutering of Syrian support for terrorism, it is likely that Syria would reverse course on that issue in the face of public pressure, should Israel actively attack the Palestinians.

Can Israel make peace with the Palestinians? As the rocket attacks show, even if the terrorist war is ended, Israel cannot go back to its pre-1967 borders. Virtually all of Israel's vital center would be subject to rocket attacks. Israel will therefore have to hold some territory captured in 1967 and later, including most of East Jerusalem, parts of the West Bank south of Afula, between Jerusalem and Netanya, and southwest of Jerusalem (east of Qirya Gat). Since such territorial concessions will not be granted by the Palestinians (see the Clinton attempt at creating a map) and since the Palestinians will not allow Israeli security control over an otherwise-independent state, it does not seem that territorial compromise is possible, at least while Arafat has any measure of control.

Even if the territorial concessions were to be granted, however, there would still be the issue of terrorism. As long as the Palestinian fringe groups think that terrorism will keep the war alive, they will continue to use terrorism. In a land of peace, those groups will have no influence, and that is unacceptable to those who wish to destroy Israel entirely. Such a situation would prevent them from reaching their goals. Since Israel cannot have security without the cessation of terrorism, there is an impasse.

Clearly, then, there is little chance for peace without a violent solution, since neither side will accept the minimum demands of the other. So what is the way forwards?

Syria must cease supporting terrorism. If Syria is unable to cease support for terrorism, because it is unable to liberalize enough to do so and not get Bashar Assad and his government hung from the lamp posts, then the US must invade Syria and bring about a regime change as has been done in Iraq.

Israel must deal harshly with the Palestinians. This will be politically difficult for Israel, because basically Israelis don't want to lower themselves to brutality, no matter what the press reports say. If the Israelis were truly brutal monsters, they would have ended this a long time ago. However, it is not necessary for the Israelis to either exterminate the Palestinians, nor to expel them wholesale. Instead, Israel should draw a set of boundaries which are acceptable to it. It should then make clear that any terrorist act within those borders would be met by a very specific kind of retaliation.

After each such act, one Palestinian village, or a significant part of a large city or camp, would be given 24 hours to evacuate. No restrictions would be placed on who could leave (except that wanted terrorists and criminals would be detained), but no vehicles would be allowed to leave (too much risk of car bombs) and each person and back would be quarantined so that they could be searched for weapons and explosives, after which they could go where they want, within the areas they are already legally allowed to travel to. Once the time limit has passed, the Israeli army would then procede to level the town. Since it would undoubtedly be boobytrapped, this would be done with bulldozers and explosives. In the end, the town's remnants would be plowed under, and no Palestinians would be allowed to rebuild there.

If necessary, this could go on until every single Palestinian village was levelled, and every city was levelled, and every Palestinian was living in tents. All along, the Israelis should make clear what their chosen settlement offer is, and it should be generous, within the minimum limits set out by the Israelis for security and sovereignty, and should certainly include rebuilding cities and towns for the Palestinians, starting up a meaningful Palestinian economy and ensuring that the Palestinians would have political control over as much as possible of their own lives. At some point, the Palestinians would have to either see that their interests were better served by accepting the Israeli offer. If this did not happen, and every Palestinian were eventually reduced to living in tents, with no means of feeding themselves, then it would be time to consider evicting the Palestinians by force into neighboring countries.

I realize just how stark and awful this is. I do think, though, that is is marginally less awful than what is happening now. I certainly think that it is less awful than any other settlement I can think of which would allow Israel to continue to exist and be secure within its borders. I'd love to have someone come up with a better answer, though. (Sticking with the current slow bleed of innocent lives (not to menation the Israeli economy) is not a better situation, as far as I am concerned.)

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What a Load of Crap!

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Calpundit is a fairly bright and articulate guy, whom I generally disagree with. I don't tend to disagree with him in the sense that I think he's a raving looney, as he's clearly not. But this is a complete load of crap.

First, shall we start getting into cutting up a person's net worth by who is most responsible for them achieving it? Why stop with the country? What about Bill Gates' parents who raised him and gave him the genetic part of his abilities? What about the teachers (public or otherwise) who taught him things? What about the authors whose books he read, and his business partners, and his investors and his customers? What about he himself? Even if we could get into determining what part of a person's inherent abilities, education/schooling, influence of friends and associates and so forth contributed to that person's wealth, why would we want to tax them according to that?

And then, let's apply Kevin's reasoning to the other end of the scale. I have a brother who is impoverished. He has no job and has never had one, except for short stints. He has no savings or other resources to draw upon, other than his family. Yet he has a car, a place to live, a TV, food, access to medical care at the emergency room, and is in many ways better off than an indigent person in Pakistan. Should he therefore be required to pay a large percentage of his income in taxes, presuming he ever gets one, because he has more than he would if he were born in Pakistan? If not, then why should Bill Gates have to do so? If so, then hasn't Kevin's point been totally negated, in that my brother is not wealthy in any way, shape or form? By the way, he gets neither unemployment nor any other form of money from the government. By Kevin's logic, should not Bill Gates be sending my brother a check?

I will grant Kevin's proposition in one way: Mr. Gates should not be paying taxes to Pakistan's government, as he earns his money in the US. Therefore, such taxes as he is required to pay should go to the American government.

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Religion in Schools

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I like Aubrey's take on the issue of religion in schools. Actually, I especially like this quote:

That problem, as I see it, is that public education has a fatal flaw. What we're seing in so many places (religion, sex education, testing, etc) is that the public school system cannot respond to market demand. It must attempt to cater to all needs and all tastes (as well as all the additional crap that has been thrust upon it over the years). What we're seeing here is a frustration of market demand because of the government imposed monopoly in education. If people's demands are frustrated in the marketplace, eventually they will look for other routes to get them satisfied, by force if necessary (either the courts or the tyranny of the majority) if there are no other outlets.

If we'd get past the idea that education must be public, we can start to look at satisfying the needs of each stakeholder. If some people want prayer and bible studies in their schools, that can be handled. If others want 'just the facts', the market will provide for it.

To coin a phrase, indeed.

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May 15, 2003

Well, That's a Shocker

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Between the museum that was not looted much and the library that was not looted, one has to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the US wasn't so dumb after all in how it chose to deploy its troops? I would guess that these guys won't think so. Notice how they stopped updating their links right around the time that we started figuring out that the reports were overblown?

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How Much do you Pay in Property Taxes?

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Consider how much of it goes for this kind of stuff.

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Axis and Allies

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Over at Winds of Change, D. Lee guest blogs about US-European relations. In the comments, Maxim has a long post, quite critical of the US, in which he gives a European view of the situation: "so not germans changed foreign policy between the aftermath of 9-11 and now, but the US."

But, Maxim, that is the entire problem. The United States spent the entire decade of the 1990s, as bin Laden and others gathered their power and attacked US interests overseas, believing that terrorism was a really minor problem, and that the long-term issues of Israeli-Palestinian peace and of maintaining our ability to contain dangerous regimes like N. Korea and Iraq - and the consequent need to consort/"engage" with oppressive dictatorships such as China and Saudi Arabia - were more important than the minor pinpricks of attacks against the US by Islamic radicals. Europeans spent the 1990s in much the same fog, too obsessed with European integration to really notice the rot in the unassimilated immigrant communities within their own borders.

September 11 exposed the falsehood of that, and gave the US a strong motive to solve the problem of Islamist terrorism. At the same time, our attention was decisively focused on the intersection of "irrational actors" and their support of terrorism, as well as the pursuit of several of them - Iran, Iraq and North Korea - of nuclear weapons. This we could not allow, or we would be threatened with utter destruction in less than a generation.

And so the US thought through its options, and came up with the following list, as far as can be publically seen:
1) organized terrorism focused on global action had to be destroyed as a threat, starting with destroying its best basing and operatives in Afghanistan
2) the "axis of evil" states must be isolated and brought down, whether by military or other means, as quickly as possible and at any cost and risk
3) other state supporters of terrorism must be redirected to either act against terrorism or at least cease support for it
4) any terrorist organizations which had not by that time been co-opted or destroyed would then have to be destroyed

(I believe that this is a lot of what's going on behind the "roadmap" as well - an attempt to co-opt the Palestinians so that we will not have to destroy them later.)

Other nations also reevaluated their positions after 9/11, and in Germany, France and the low countries, the problem of unassimilated immigrants began to be realized in a way it had not before. Now, the increasing anger of the young men among these populations begins to look like a basis for a possible civil war in Germany and France some time in the next 20 years, unless either the Muslims assimilate or demographic trends alter radically.

Strategically, the problem for the French and Germans was to decide how to prevent such a civil war. Their ideology prevents them from simply deporting the unassimilated immigrants, their economies and inability to build public support for funding a strong military deprives them of the ability to confront the problem from a position of strength, and their racism prevents them from allowing the immigrants to assimilate, and thus gain economic and political power which would give them a hopeful future. So the French in particular, and to a lesser extent the Germans, chose the path of Saudi Arabia, and find an external enemy.

This was somewhat natural, as they had already been doing a lesser version of the same thing for a decade by demonizing Israel. Why not simply adopt bin Laden's/Saddam's lie that Israel and the US were objectively the same entity? Then, you could build your own popularity by feeding the forces of dissent at home by bashing on the US, while giving the Muslim immigrants a better target (from the European point of view) in the US than they had in France or Germany. Best of all, the US is such a forgiving nation that we had never spent a lot of energy in the past punishing other nations that stooped to this level, so why would we now?

But the US has changed since September 11, and we're not willing to be either the target of terrorism or the tool of political cowards like Schroeder and Chirac. And this is where the Weasels have fundamentally failed: by not understanding that the US is not content to play the silent victim, they picked the wrong path. Had the French and Germans stood up and said that removing Saddam was necessary, due to Saddam's regrettable actions, they would have been able to not only have a role in reshaping the Middle East, which could have created a society that the immigrants could return to, they would also have had our support if a civil war in Europe did break out. As it is now, I suspect that if such a civil war were to break out, the only concerns the US would have would be preventing the spread beyond France, Germany and the low countries; and ensuring that the French nuclear arsenal were brought into US/UK hands or were destroyed. Frankly, other than that they can go rot.

Note that I am not saying that I have anything against the majority of the French and German people individually; we'd welcome them as immigrants here. But I don't think we'd risk our blood and treasure to save their diseased political cultures for a third time.

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May 14, 2003


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Thanks to Winds of Change for the link to this article by Reuel Marc Gerecht. Too good to excerpt, the article discusses the American psychological position in the Middle East, and the threats to it (hint: most of them are internal to the US).

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Poor Bloody England

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It's sad to see things like this, especially when it's the latest in a long line of stories about protecting criminals in England:

Britain's defeatist attitude toward crime reminds me of the gloomy days of New York City before Rudy Giuliani. In Bath, I saw that sad old sticker, "Nothing of value in this car" (so go rob another one, please). Even homes in rural areas are equipped with motion detectors. Some Brit proposed today new measures to protect burglars, who apparently are at risk by victims who fight back. It is always sad to see a people you love running away from common sense.

I've always wanted to live in the Isles - I have a particular cultural and religious affinity to the area of Wales, in particular, and my wife to Ireland - but I cannot really bring myself to look for jobs there until this situation (and the situation with Islamicist terrorists, too) clears up. What a damnable shame.

UPDATE (5/7): Here is another example of the "long line of stories" about Britain's failure to provide security to her citizens.

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This is not about school, per se, but was was written by a teacher. I suppose that her students, like most, will get no training in logic or history. (hat tips: Andrew Sullivan and Cold Fury)

THE EVIDENCE OF this overwhelming meanness of spirit is everywhere, abroad and at home. Even the administration's efforts to justify the war in Iraq as one of liberation and declare victory cannot mask the human costs to American troops and their families. How many thousands of Iraqis are dead? Where are the ridiculously named "weapons of mass destruction" that Bush used to justify this invasion? Witness the looting of priceless antiquities, kitsch and cash from Iraqi museums and Saddam Hussein's palaces and homes, allowed and participated in not only by Iraqis but members of the American armed forces and their "embedfellows," the media.
Yet to question this war and its aftermath is characterized as at worst treason and at best anti-American cynicism.

No, no, Ms. Nelson. We don't think that you are treasonous, nor anti-American. It is quite clear from your column that you are weak-willed, ignorant of history, pathetic, illogical, and a pathological hater of Republicans in general and of President Bush in particular. That, or you are in serious need of psychiatric help. But not treasonous or anti-American, per se.

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Oh No! Oh No No

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This is just wrong. I refer, in particular, to Bigwig's, er, quotes from the Pontiff.

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Why Make them Lighter?

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This article, which I got via The Command Post, contains a bit that doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

it wants to upgrade the forward-deployed 2nd Infantry Division to SBCT (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) status, to make its forces lighter and more mobile. America is also studying plans to send an SBCT unit to South Korea this summer for a military exercise.

A USFK official said the transformation to SBCT was in line with America's long-term plans to reorganize and reduce its troop count here while strengthening its fighting power and deterrence effect at the same time. He denied that the plans were related to the nuclear issue with North Korea. But some experts said the moves seemed to be designed to prepare for a possible worsening of the crisis.

The whole point of a Stryker brigade is to be easily deployable and very mobile, while having a lot of hitting power. It seems that you want for divisions already deployed in Korea to be as heavy as possible, given the threat, terrain, and lack of need to deploy them (as they are already deployed). I can only think of a few scenarios:

  1. I'm reading more into this article than is really there.
  2. The article got wrong what is happening.
  3. The actual reference should be to 2IDs 3d Brigade, which is stationed in the US and would have to be deployed.
  4. The actual reference should be to additional forces being deployed to Korea in the event of war, and the prepositioning is for such forces (although, again, if you're going to preposition shouldn't you preposition heavy equipment)?
  5. We actually intend within the next couple of years to pull USFK - at least the land component - out of Korea to Japan or elsewhere in the region, but want them to be versed in operating as a medium force in Korea before we leave.

None of these seem like really good reasons to me, so what am I missing here? What's the rationale for using SBCTs in Korea instead of heavy divisions?

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May 13, 2003


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Calpundit has an interesting article on multilateralism. He mentions US use of multilateral methods in Korea, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine, and then asks:

These are all good reasons for multinational collaboration in foreign policy. They are also reasons put forward by conservatives and by a conservative administration. So why is that Iraq, uniquely in the world, seems to be the one place where none of this matters?

Well, the trite answer is that we have lots of tools in our toolkit, and it's not good to assume that every problem is a nail.

The more serious answer is related to national interests. In the Korean situation, the countries neighboring North Korea have far more interest in the situation than does the US. China and Japan do not want a nuclear-armed North Korea. China does not want Japan and Taiwan to obtain nuclear weapons, which a failure to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons would almost certainly lead to. South Korea does not want to lose Seoul, and does not want to have to pay for bringing North Korea back from the brink. (It would much rather the US pay to keep North Korea barely intact.) The US, on the other hand, just wants the region to be peaceful, and for the representative and capitalist South Koreans and Japanese to remain representative and capitalist. Frankly, we don't have a strong and immediate interest here, which is why we're considering pulling our troops out of South Korea.

In Afghanistan, we use other nations to help keep the peace and to help reconstruct for a few reasons. Mainly, we wanted at the start to keep NATO involved and relevant (it's no longer clear that this is a long-term US goal, after France's stonewalling on defending Turkey), share the costs and give other nations reasons to keep Afghanistan peaceful and on an upward path. The US only has a security interest in keeping Afghanistan from returning to being a base for terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and we have plenty of troops on hand for that. I would argue that we have a moral obligation to Afghanistan, but I also realize that morality is almost never actually in play in international politics.

In Israel, I think that our main reason for being involved is to keep a lid on the conflict. I don't know that we care if it gets resolved or how, as long as the other Arab nations are not incited to cease co-operating with us in the War on Terror, with selling oil and with other genuine US national interests. We certainly want Israel to remain representative and capitalist, and want to convert other nations in the region to that model, but I don't know that this has anything to do with our involvement in the peace process. I suspect that if we weren't engaged heavily in the region because of the war on terror, we would have completely withdrawn from the process once it became clear that the Palestinians were not negotiating or acting in good faith. As it is, we are making ourselves a target of Arab rage for no good reason. So using the Quartet is useful to somewhat deflect that rage and to give the Palestinians' non-Arab supporters (the UN, Russia, the EU) reasons to actually pressure the Palestinians to stick up to any agreements.

The US has a direct financial interest in Europe. We want Europe to remain representative and capitalist, certainly, and in order to do that the Europeans have to be defended. It costs us a lot of money to defend them, that we'd rather spend elsewhere. There is a raft of indications that the US is about to do just that, whether Europe spends on its own defense or not. This is risky, in that if Europe remains undefended, and an aggressive nation appears in in midst or on its borders, that nation may be able to capture Europe or pressure it in ways that are bad for our interests.

Iraq is a very different matter. In addition to our short-term interests in the War on Terror (Iraqi support for Palestinian radicals, development of weapons of mass destruction, training terrorists and the like), Iraq is a largely secular and educated state. This makes it a perfect place to try to set up a federal, representative republic with a capitalist economy. This would make a fine example for the rest of the Arab world to emulate (by popular demand, and almost certainly against the wishes of the rulers of those other Arab/Muslim nations), so that we would be forced to fight fewer wars in order to end support of terrorism from Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia (and to a lesser extent some other Arab/Muslim nations). Thus, it is heavily in our interests to resolve the Iraqi situation in the way most favorable to us. On the contrary, the UN, France, Germany, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt all have reasons to want us to fail. The UN needs us to fail to prove that only UN-sponsored intervention works. Germany, France and Russia need us to fail for economic reasons (and, in the case of France, for face-saving reasons). Iran, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia want us to fail to preserve their interests in Iraq, prevent us from coming after them, and not incite their own people to try to emulate an Iraqi success by overthrowing their current leaders. Turkey needs us to fail so that they will be able to continue intervening in Kurdish territory. As a result, it will be the US, Britain, Poland, Australia and a few other countries who rebuild Iraq.

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The Individual, Society and the State

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While researching for this post, I came across this article, which is an excellent discussion of the individual, the state, and the nature of authority and its relationship to Liberty. Some money quotes:

The State, every government whatever its form, character or color - be it absolute or constitutional, monarchy or republic, Fascist, Nazi or Bolshevik - is by its very nature conservative, static, intolerant of change and opposed to it. Whatever changes it undergoes are always the result of pressure exerted upon it, pressure strong enough to compel the ruling powers to submit peaceably or otherwise, generally "otherwise" - that is, by revolution. Moreover, the inherent conservatism of govemment, of authority of any kind, unavoidably becomes reactionary. For two reasons: first, because it is in the nature of government not only to retain the power it has, but also to strengthen, widen and perpetuate it, nationally as well as internationally. The stronger authority grows, the greater the State and its power, the less it can tolelate a similar authority or political power along side of itself. The psychology of govemment demands that its influence and prestige constantly grow, at home and abroad, and it exploits every opportunity to increase it. This tendency is motivated by the financial and commercial interests back of the government, represented and served by it.


Our political and social scheme cannot afford to tolerate the individual and his constant quest for innovation. In "self-defense" the State therefore suppresses, persecutes, punishes and even deprives the individual of life. It is aided in this by every institution that stands for the preservation of the existing order. It resorts to every form of violence and force, and its efforts are supported by the "moral indignation" of the majority against the heretic, the social dissenter and the political rebel - the majority for centuries drilled in State worship, trained in discipline and obedience and subdued by the awe of authority in the home, the school, the church and the press.


The "genius of man," which is but another name for personality and individuality, bores its way through all the caverns of dogma, through the thick walls of tradition and custom, defying all taboos, setting authority at naught, facing contumely and the scaffold - ultimately to be blessed as prophet and martyr by succeeding generations. But for the "genuis of man," that inherent, persistent quality of individuality, we would be still roaming the primeval forests.


Man's true liberation, individual and collective, lies in his emancipation from authority and from the belief in it. All human evolution has been a struggle in that direction and for that object. It is not invention and mechanics which constitute development. The ability to travel at the rate of 100 miles an hour is no evidence of being civilized. True civilization is to be measured by the individual, the unit of all social life; by his individuality and the extent to which it is free to have its being to grow and expand unhindered by invasive and coercive authority.

Socially speaking, the criterion of civilization and culture is the degree of liberty and economic opportunity which the individual enjoys; of social and international unity and co-operation unrestricted by man-made laws and other artificial obstacles; by the absence of privileged castes and by the reality of liberty and human dignity; in short, by the true emancipation of the individual.

While I am no fan of anarchism, which is the apparent preferred ideology of the article's author, there is much wheat among the chaff.

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Missing Margo

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Tim Blair needs to leave Blogger, so I can permalink to this post:

GIANNA asks:
How many weeks can webdiary say "Margo Kingston will be back on deck next week". Should we send a search party?

The Bunyip also misses Margo. My theory: the tragically successful war in Iraq has destablised the batlike sonar Margo uses to make her way to the Sydney Morning Herald each morning. She's probably bouncing off parked cars in Lithgow or Bathurst. If you see her, contact a licensed journalist trapper.

No, Tim, some animals are just too dangerous to attempt to capture, and just need to be put down.

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Deconstructing Chomsky

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Keith Windschuttle critiques Noam Chomsky in The New Criterion. (hat tip: Tim Blair)

This view of both journalists and audiences as easily-led, ideological dupes of the powerful is not just a fantasy of Chomsky and Herman's own making. It is also a stance that reveals an arrogant and patronising contempt for everyone who does not share their politics. The disdain inherent in this outlook was revealed during an exchange between Chomsky and a questioner at a conference in 1989 (reproduced in Chomsky, Understanding Power, 2002):
Man: The only poll I've seen about journalists is that they are basically narcissistic and left of center. Chomsky: Look, what people call "left of center" doesn't mean anything — it means they're conventional liberals and conventional liberals are very state-oriented, and usually dedicated to private power.

In short, Chomsky believes that only he and those who share his radical perspective have the ability to rise above the illusions that keep everyone else slaves of the system. Only he can see things as they really are.

Noam Chomsky provides, to a very large extent, the ideological underpinnings of the radical leftists. The violent anarchists and extreme neo-Marxists who make up the core of the "anti-war" movement draw much of their rhetoric from Chomsky. As Glenn Reynolds would put it, they're not anti-war, they're just on the other side.

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Time to Drop our Old Animosities...

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and pick up new ones, more suited to the times. The far left and the far right have joined to defend tyrants and curtail US power. The ACLU has joined with Dick Armey and Orrin Hatch to defend civil liberties. The old left/right divide no longer works. "Centrist" and "Extremist" don't really work, and "Idiotarian" doesn't satisfy (used by either side), because these are value judgements that the sides will not agree on. (Both sides have to accept the term for it to be meaningful as a basis of debate.)

Since the key factor in the current political meta-debate is to what extent state sovereignty is absolute vs. predicated on the representative nature of a given country, and since this turns on whether it should be the state or the individual who forms the basic unit of sovereignty, I suggest we use the terms "collectivist" and "individualist".

Collectivists believe, like Noam Chomsky, that the individual exists to serve the state's economic policies, for the moral betterment of society; or believe, like Pat Buchanan, that the state exists to curb the moral imperfections of individuals, for the moral betterment of society. The key is that a collectivist believes that the state exists to contain and channel the individual into a path determined by society (and hence by the state), so as to collectively better all. Brian Carnell observes the same phenomenon, in the context of attitudes towards corporations.

I don't yet have good sources spelling out the collectivist concept of the place of the indidual and the state, or their concept on the role of government. This is mainly because it is dreadful reading through the writings of Marx, Engles, Chomsky, Buchanan, Robertson, et al. When I get them, I will quote them.

Individualists believe that people individually hold and retain all rights, except those voluntarily surrendered to the state or to other organizations. In other words, all organizations are voluntary and have only such power as the people comprising the organization choose to grant to the organization. The state exists for the purpose of achieving what individuals could not achieve, such as mediating disputes, ensuring individual rights against each other and the state itself, and providing domestic security and security from invasion.

The individualist concept of the place of the indidual and the state is based upon:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The individualist concept of the role of government is:
to...establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

So unless anyone can come up with better terms, I am going to use "collectivist" and "individualist".

UPDATE (5/12): Michael Totten describes the new divide as "Liberators" and "Destroyers." I have to stick with my original terms, though, good as these are, because the Destroyers would not self-identify that way. Still, you should read his essay.

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May 12, 2003

Putting a Stake in the Heart of Interservice Rivalry

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The A-10 Warthog is the most amazing aircraft in our arsenal, and it may be scrapped by Air Force politics. While I can't agree with Trent that "what is good for the USAF Brass (bomber pilots then and fighter pilots now) is bad for America, and vice versa," it is certainly true that the Air Force has too disparate a group of missions to fly. The Air Force's missions include strategic nuclear strike, air superiority, deep attack, tactical air support of ground forces, reconaissance, electronic intelligence gathering and warfare and a host of other missions. This is too broad of a mission set, and what ends up happening is that the "sexiest" jobs - fighter pilots - get to make all of the rules, and oddly enough they keep making rules that favor fighters over everything else.

In the area of actual warfighting, Goldwater-Nichols fixed the problem of inter-service rivalry. Since all theaters are commanded by a joint warfighter, to whom all elements report, the various military organizations operate as a single team. This is a huge improvement over earlier eras, where (for example) troops on the ground couldn't talk to their air support, because the radios were different. However, the various services still are in charge of deciding what equipment to buy, how to train the forces, what to actually send to a particular theater and so on. This leads from time to time to situations where a combatant commander wants a certain resource, say A-10s, and it is denied to him or watered down, largely in order to prevent that resource from gaining acclaim which would make it harder to kill off in favor of, say, more fighters. For some reason, the Air Force is really bad about this kind of thing.

It seems to me that we need another reorganization similar to that which followed Goldwater-Nichols. In this case, though, what we would want to do is look not at how we fight, but how we prepare to fight. What I would suggest as a first cut is looking at the military in terms of where it fights and what it needs to fight well. We fight in four arenas currently: inland, at sea, in the air and in the littorals. We could soon add in space to that list. Services and capabilities needed to fight well divide into those things that we must do before we decide to deploy troops, those things which are necessary to deploy troops and sustain them after they are deployed, and those things other than combat forces which are necessary to allow them to fight effectively. Those things that are necessary before we decide to deploy include procurement, administration (including legal staff, accounting and the like), doctrine and training, rear-area medical facilities, family support and so forth. Those things that are necessary to deploy and sustain troops include capabilities to move troops and supplies, as well as management and distribution of the supplies themselves. Those things which enable the combat forces to fight effectively include intelligence, psyops, reconnaisance, field medical support and the like.

The would lead to the combat forces dividing much as they are today: Army for inland combat, Navy for deep-water warfare, Air Force for air superiority and deep strike/strategic bombing and Marines for fighting along the coastlines. I see three minor changes to mission that would be involved in implementing this. The Army should take over the ICBMs and related strategic and theater nuclear missiles, on the grounds that these are no more aerial weapons than is a bullet. They go from the ground to the ground. The Army should also take over the CAS role currently provided by the Air Force (the Marines already have their own CAS, and would keep it). This means integrating the A-10s into the Army, as well as any other aircraft used strictly for close air support. The Marines would absorb the Coast Guard, whose mission would expand rather dramatically - closer to its WWII mission than its current mission.

One thing we need to be careful of is multirole capabilities. For example, we currently have a lot of aircraft which can switch roles. In the early days of a war, while we are gaining air supremacy, we need the F-15s and F-16s to fight enemy fighters and counter-air missions. Later, these can be incrementally switched to support of the ground troops. This is a useful and cost-saving way to implement the capabilities, and we don't want to lose it. It turns out that this distinction is fairly easy to draw, though. We simply would use the Army's aircraft for operations in areas where the Army forces are operating; Marine aircraft for where Marine forces are operating; and Air Force aircraft for interdiction and deep strike. F-16s could still plink tanks; they would just be doing that to units not actually in contact with Army or Marine units.

The non-combat forces could be put into three "services:" joint administration and readiness, covering the things we need to do before we deploy; logistics, covering deployment and sustainability; and joint combat support, covering those non-combat capabilities which enhance the theater commander's ability to employ his combatant units.

This would be a large shakeup, to be sure, and would be politically messy to implement. I think, though, that it would focus the non-combat parts of the military more on how to support our ability to fight, rather than on what got them to where they are. In other words, it would not be a fighter jock deciding if fighters could do it all, but rather a procurement officer deciding what capabilities are necessary and in what amounts to allow the Army's combatant forces to do their jobs as well as possible.

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I'm going to link to something that will most likely make you angry. First, read this CityJournal article, then read this post by Mrs. du Toit. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Radicalisation of the schools - and not just on sexuality - is obviously an untenable situation over the long-term. This particular agenda is unstable because it denies the basic tenets of humanity and nature, and as such eventually will be rebelled against, as is any tyranny (particularly in the US, where patriotism is defined as resistance to tyranny rather than love of country, despite what many leftists would like you to believe). However, this is but one of many fads sweeping through public education these days, all? of which tend to be radical and leftist. But where does the radicalisation of schools end up when it topples?

I see three options, of which the most attractive to me personally is presented by the CityJournal article's conclusion:

No compulsory public school system can be justified unless what it teaches is a worldview that the taxpayers who fund it can support. The "common schools" came into existence, after all, to acculturate immigrants to American values. For schools to try to indoctrinate children in a radical, minority worldview ... is a kind of tyranny, one that, in addition, intentionally drives a wedge between parents and children and ... "opposes society itself." We must not let an appeal to our belief in tolerance and decency blind us to indecency — and to the individual and social damage that will result from it.
It would be nice if this were the end of the inevitable backlash: a reformation of abolition of the schools which tolerate such tyrannies while declining to produce literate, numerate and acculterated children.

The second option would be for there to be a general societal backlash against homosexual rights and other radical views, undoing much of the last century of progress in human tolerance. And make no mistake, the fact that a majority people in the US now believe that the right of a person to choose their life partner without the blessing of the State is in fact a sign of progress. If a person's behavior does not infringe your rights, it should be allowed. Like ending slavery, this is yet another step to treating people as equals and as individually capable of controlling their own lives without the interference of the State.

The third option, feared by Mrs. du Toit, is the truly radical backlash to a truly radical overreach:

When I first read it I was shocked. My shock turned to anger. Then my anger turned to fear. I am no babe in the woods here. My best friend and roommate for seven years was a gay, male prostitute. I know more about the gay culture than I want to know. I know that the vast majority of homosexuals are wonderful people, who would never support something like this. But this group of extremists are so [insert series of expletives here] stupid that they do not realize what the counter to these types of actions are going to be. They put all gays and lesbians at an incredible risk. Do we have to show them pictures of cattle cars to get the point across? Do they not have ANY knowledge of history, of sociological trends, and of the inertia that these types of actions are going to have on our culture?

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The Essential Nature of America

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I think that most non-Americans - and more than a few Americans - miss the essential nature of America, particularly in their behavior towards other nations. Here is the quick and dirty guide to understanding American foreign policy:

  • If you leave us alone, we will leave you alone. Heck, we'll even give you money if we think you need it more than we do. Mind if we send some tourists your way?
  • If you trade with us, we will trade with you. The more barriers and annoyances you put in place, the more we will do so as well, and eventually we will trade less with you for it. On the other hand, the more open you are, the more open we will be. We would just as soon eliminate tarriffs and the like: we have the income tax now and don't really need them. Please, let us open branch offices and fast food joints.
  • If you are our faithful ally, trustworthy and honest, we will shower you with every benefit we can give. We will defend you against all threats. We will send our young men and women, if necessary to die, by the millions to aid you. We will spend our blood and our treasure freely on your behalf. All that we will ask of you is a plot of land to bury our dead.
  • If you pose an existential threat to us, we are the most ruthless bastards on the face of the Earth, and we will bend you to our wills, or we will kill you. Witness, if you will, the American Civil War, the way we fought against Japan in WWII, Dresden and so forth.
  • If you interfere with our interests abroad, we will be annoyed with you, and will attempt to marginalize and contain you, even to destroy your economy and culture if necessary. I'm looking at you, Fidel Castro.
  • If you threaten us (empty or not) and act to develop means to hurt us, see the point about posing an existential threat. After September 11, we are not going to put up with that crap any more. I'm looking at you, Kim Jong-Il.
  • If you think we are a pawn to play in your regional games, and in the process decide to interfere with our attempts to maintain our security, we will work to thwart your ambitions. I'm looking at you, Jacques Chirac.
  • We are large, rich, powerful and diverse. What other nations see as major acts of war (bombing our embassies, for example), we frequently see as annoyances and part of the price for being in the world. Eventually, we will notice if you keep it up. I'm looking at what's left of you, Osama bin Laden.
  • We are not always wise, but we are always intelligent. We are always kind and generous and loyal to our friends, ruthless and implacable to our enemies, and we generally ignore those who don't fall into either of the above categories as best we can. We make mistakes, but we correct them. We are repentant, but we are not guilt-ridden. We are religious, but we are not fanatics.

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Tell Me Again

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Tell me again, how you support the troops, but not the war? That's not how they see it:

Many soldiers watched huge antiwar protests on the news and weren't sure of the reception they'd get at home. At the end of their shifts, they'd often gather in tents and talk about the stateside mood.

"Did we talk about it and did it matter? Yes," says Air Force Capt. Jeff Isgett of Fairbanks, Alaska, an A-10 pilot who flew forward air-control missions over Baghdad. "We fight for our country, we love the people of this country, and we love what it stands for, so the hardest part was [feeling] that people had a lack of trust" in military officials, he says.

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Let's all go Reread Harrison Bergeron

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Maybe these guys should reread this story because this is a fetid load of dingo's kidneys. Remind me again about how government school teaches kids to live in the real world? (hat tip: Right Wing News)

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Induction and Magic

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Reading first Bill Whittle's Magic and then Steven Den Beste's post of deductive and inductive logic, I reached an understanding I hadn't had before. (Sometimes, it's useful to superimpose two ideas in your brain and see what falls out.)

I think that a lot of the reason people fall for fantasy ideologies (Islamism, Fascism, Socialism, Communism, the Palestinian idea of "right of return" and the like) is because of the heuristics we gain as we grow. Specifically, we learn to trust authority (in the form of our parents and teachers); to devalue particularly smart people (who get beaten up at school and don't get as many dates); to value the present, quickly-delivered idea over the old, written, well-documented idea; that humor often holds a deeper truth; and that people who say they care for us frequently do (parents and friends).

Some people never learn that authority figures can often be wrong - and when authority figures are wrong they are no more likely to change their behavior than when they are right; that smart people can in fact be right about complex issues, even if they miss the subtle clues of one-on-one relationships; that cracker-jack slogans on film with MTV-style quick-cuts can direct you away from the truth while well-reasoned and carefully thought-through ideas can be meaningful to you (even if they were written down 250 years ago); that someone can be both funny and wrong; and that people who say they care for us frequently don't.

The place for a charlatan or a person pushing a fantasy ideology to catch new converts is after they have a basic ability to understand reason but before they have a sophisticated ability to reason for themselves. In other words, in elementary school. I wonder if this is not why positions advocated by people like Michael Moore or Susan Sarandon seem like childish drivel and playground logic?

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Clinton to Blog?

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Sgt. Stryker points to a FoxNews article which notes:

Clinton told the audience that his Web site, which is now up and running, will soon offer his take on news events as they happen. "Now you'll know what's really going on," he promised. "Since you're not told that often these days."

It doesn't sound to me like he's actually going to write this himself. His usual flacks will probably write the material based on Clinton's vague directions, and then he'll alter a few things and approve the text. In fact, it doesn't sound like a blog at all (depends on the meaning of "as they happen"?), which is kind of sad, because I really want him to have comments turned on.

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May 11, 2003

"I Don't Call That Failure"

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Porphyrogenitus has already sewn up today's award for raising my blood pressure to dangerous heights. He passes along articles from the Washington Post and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus about an incident in Barre, VT, where "[a] uniformed police officer persuaded a custodian to open a school in the middle of the night so he could photograph class projects he found objectionable as an American and as a military veteran."

While Officer Mott certainly has the right "as a resident and a voter and a taxpayer of this community" to take these photographs - this is after all a public place - the fact that he did this under cover of law - that is to say, while wearing his uniform and in fact on duty - makes his action iffy. He will likely (and should) get a reprimand, and possibly some remedial training.

This was apparently sparked by parent complaints:

Mott said he took the photographs less than 48 hours after attending a school board meeting at which several residents complained about what they claimed was an attempt to "indoctrinate" not "educate" students.

School officials have rejected that notion, defending Treece as a "thought-provoking" teacher who provides students in his public issues class with resources from the full spectrum of political perspectives.

This is balance???



I think that what bothers me most is that school officials, who have to see this after all, as they move around the school, didn't find it objectionable - not the viewpoints, but the fact that a teacher was obviously politically indoctrinating the students. I wonder if they would have been so sanguine if a teacher had put up an American flag as a sign of respect, rather than stuffed into a combat boot, or maybe a bumper sticker saying "Charlton Heston is my President."

By the way, the significance of the title quote is here.

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It used to be the case that many of the soldiers whose bodies were buried overseas, or returned to the US for burial, were of unknown soldiers. That is, we knew they were American soldiers, but did not know which ones they were. For all but the most advanced nations, this is still the case. The last unknown soldier that the US interred was from Viet Nam, but he was disinterred and identified using DNA analysis. The US will never again recover the body of a soldier and not be able to identify him.

What is amazing about this story (hat tip, Transterrestrial Musings) is not the fight and bravery (I expect that from all American soldiers) but that we are putting so much effort into completely understanding what amounts to a minor incident. Almost no one else will go to these lengths: in war it is inevitable that soldiers will take a wrong turn, and get ambushed and killed. Mistakes, friction, the "fog of war" are everpresent realities.

But not necessarily forever. The US is turning vast amounts of attention to understanding every single aspect of every event in a war zone - no matter how trivial. We are studing who was in what vehicles when, and how they decided to fight, and how they died - and not just on the American side. We also study civilian deaths and enemy deaths.

We are putting such an intense spotlight on the fog of war that we are burning away the confusion, a little at a time. It will never be completely gone, of course; that is an impossibility. But we are reducing it dramatically. Since Viet Nam, we have sought to understand every single aspect of the circumstances of combat, and to correct for those that work to get people killed. We've been willing to pour exceptional resources into understanding events that, in Viet Nam or Korea or WWII or even the Phillipine occupation after the Spanish-American war, would have not even merited footnotes. In the end, I think that it is this focus on the exact circumstances of the death of every American soldier, and the willingness to pay exhorbitant sums to prevent it from happening again, which have led to the exceptionally small number of deaths in wars since Viet Nam.

(By the way, in order to give an idea of how small our number of deaths is, it is useful to look at casualty models. By the models that were in use in 1991, we should have suffered about 8000 to 10000 casualties, about a 3000-4000 of them dead. But we suffered only 146 dead out of less than 650 total casualties. By those same models, we should have lost about 25000 to 35000 troops in the latest war (about 9000 to 12000 dead), rather than under 150 dead and less than 500 wounded.)

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Patrick Belton at OxBlog postulates that American policies (he mentions foreign policy, but I suspect that this applies just as strongly to domestic policies) come out the way they do largely because American voters, while somewhat ignorant as a whole of policy details, have a very strong and constant set of values. By voting on their values, Belton maintains, the policies of American administrations "a rather moderate-but-inconsistent course that frustrates ideologues on both sides of the partisan divide." It's a very interesting article, well worth reading.

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Layered Warfare

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Unlike the Noble Pundit, I'm not dismissive of China's newest tank design. If it pans out, it will be a serious piece of weaponry, which demands a bit of battlefield respect. While larger gun calibers are of somewhat limited utility in anti-tank terms, having a 152mm gun does give the tank better capability against infantry and hardened positions than the Abrams has. It will be interesting to see if this design includes the armored internal bulkheads and other features designed to maximize crew survivability in modern Western designs. Most importantly, this weapons system will be a threat to Taiwan, equipped with older tanks, should China ever develop a credible amphibious capability before Taiwan can acquire more modern weapons.

In order to successfully beat the US on the battlefield, a country will need to field a broad range of capabilities: a heavy tank capable of defeating US missiles and tanks; either a formidable air force or a powerful mobile high-speed high-altitude air defense; some naval, air or missile force to compel the US Navy to stand far offshore; and a professional NCO corps in an Army organized for independent small-unit action and large-scale coordinated combined arms. This combination of capabilities would make an enemy competitive with us. I believe that this tank might well fulfill the first requirement for the Chinese. The Chinese could easily develop the submarine capability to make the USN nervous. It would be a huge and risky undertaking to get the Chinese air force up to standards, and I'm not convinced that China can do this in the next ten to fifteen years. (They have size, but not quality or doctrine.) They may be able to develop a mobile air-defense capability, though, to put a bubble of airspace denial around their maneuver units, sometime in the next ten years or so.

Where the Chinese will really fall down, though, is in the last element. No Communist society devolves the necessary authority far enough downwards. That requires a level of trust not present in such a society. As a result, it is almost certainly the case that, even should China achieve a weapons parity, they would not have the battlefield flexibility to beat the US. They might be able to slow us down, though, and in that case we might be in trouble. If the Chinese could draw us into a war on their territory, we probably could not compete in a war of attrition, because the Chinese could turn out a lot more soldiers than we could. Even so, the conditions for the Chinese to defeat us basically are: war in China, with the Chinese vastly improved and the US standing still.

Overall, I still don't see a short- or medium-term threat, to us or to Taiwan.

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This is America

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Frank J once again demonstrates that you can be funny while you make a serious point.

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Cultural Marxism

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Porphyrogenitus asks how to defeat Cultural Marxism, the "Long March through the institutions." I wrote a little about that here, but there is another point that needs to be made.

In any evangelistic movement, there are only two ways to end the movement. Either a competing axiom set must arise, which makes a better fit with the needs of the people exposed to it, or the evangelists must be killed. It is in the nature of evangelism to be persistent and coercive. Otherwise, an evangelist is unlikely to convert anyone to his belief system. It is also in the nature of evangelistic movements to be based on logically-shaky foundations, because if the foundations were logically formed, evangelism would be unnecessary; reason would be sufficient to convince people of the utility of the belief system.

As a result, "bad philosophy" is rampant: it is at the heart of every evangelistic movement, and our schools do not teach reason, logic or other Enlightenment values. (This is likely a deliberate tactic, in order to weaken resistence to the next phases of the Marxist agenda.) Interestingly, this lack of teaching of logic and reason does not merely make it more possible for Cultural Marxism to spread, but also for radical right-wing Christian evangelism - the initial benefactor (during the 1980's to mid 1990's) of a lack of ability to evaluate belief systems. (Note: I am not bagging on Christianity per se, merely the political movement based on the Christian equivalent of Sharia.)

We can reduce the influence and slow the spread of "bad philosophy" by resisting it. We homeschool our children, for example, which removes them from a major source of bad philosophy; and we teach them reason and logic so they can defend themselves against bad philosophies. Of course, some people have concerns that we may be abusing our children. The use of language like John Carey displays is the reason why resistance ultimately is futile: there is always a way for water to seep in. It's not, you see, that he dislikes or distrusts home schoolers; it's just that we have to make sure as a society that people aren't abusing children. This will require us, of course, to control every child and watch every parent closely, but we know you're with us in despising people who abuse children. Once a new (lower) plane is reached, the arguments begin to roll back the newly exposed elements of liberty and reason.

So the resistance is necessary, but temporary. In the end; assuming that we don't want to go the route of killing off the Cultural Marxists, Postmodernists, Transnational Progressives and the like; we will have to find an axiom set that is incompatible with the radical Leftist philosophies. Just as Protestantism took the power out of Catholicism, and "Compassionate Conservatism" and neo-conservatism took the wind out of the paleoconservative sails, it will be necessary to find an ideology which will woo the Leftists themselves - not the bulk of the public, which rejects the Leftist idiocy at every turn.

We need an axiom set which will attract the salvagable Leftists, isolating the unreformable radicals. This axiom set needs to be less destructive, in that it needs to limit State intervention to situations which are exceptional and specifically-defined, rather than having State intervention be the norm. The axiom set needs to focus on Justice and Fairness - the key concepts underlying the Leftist agenda - but actually provide for those attributes without becoming tyrannies. Frankly, the Leftist point of view is so far from mine that I cannot see what that axiom set would be. I hope someone can come up with one, though, because it would be a real shame to see mass killings in a few decades. Particularly because it seems to be the radical Leftists who are prone to committing the mass killings, and if that were to happen it would likely be the children of the Enlightenment - such as myself and my family and most of my friends - who would be the ones being killed. Oh, we'd take a few out with us, but it would be nice to just settle this peacefully.

One thing that I think might hold some hope is that world-changing events have been taking place, and more will be coming soon. In particular, the events of 9/11 have made people more resistant to radical ideologies, which will help to slow much of the Leftist agenda, at least over the next few years. In addition, there is some chance that we will finally begin private expansion into space. If Rutan's Space Ship One and projects like it are successful, we might begin the path to the colonization of space. Such an expansive movement will give a place for the idealists and dreamers to go and confront reality, and in the past has been one of the reasons that countries like Britain, the US and Australia - all active in robust frontier exploration - have tended to be both freer and more productive than stagnant societies like the European Continentals.

UPDATE: Porphyrogenitus comments both here and on his blog, and has some good points, so I wanted to address them. The points I want to talk about basically boil down to "been done" and the concept of ex-migration.

Porphyrogenitus notes that classical liberalism started from just this kind of break with the past, by creating new axioms to win away people from an existing movement. That's kind of my point, actually. I perhaps should have scarequoted "Justice" and "Fairness", because the Left does not use the same meanings that someone with, say, a dictionary and a grasp of the English language might use.

The radical Left - and Porphyrogenitus points this out continually and admirably - has a public face which is all about good intentions. They'd like you to please ignore the heat-soaked road off to the left. And the Left is immune to criticism, in the sense that they define every viewpoint and even matters of demonstrable fact as being part of a narrative, which they simply refuse to accept if it does not fit within their theory. Clearly, the theory is correct; therefore reality lacks conviction. Thus, since we cannot criticize the Left on reasonable terms, we must use their cant against them, much like a practitioner of judo throws his opponent using the opponent's own momentum. We must find a way to make their publically-acceptable good intentions lead to actual good deeds. That said, Porphyrogenitus has an excellent point that I need to think about more: "So this would bring us full circle, but with a strong tendency to continue the circle right around without getting us out of the quandry."

On the other point, I don't really see ex-migration as a panacea. I think that tyranny is almost inevitable in human relations; it is a very stable state. It takes much hard work to maintain a free state, in the sense that order is maintained and otherwise individuals are free to act according to their Will. At the heart of this is essential human laziness. Faced with no existential threat, humans just want someone else to take care of the problems and leave them alone. This makes it easy for a free society to degrade quickly into a tyranny.

The Founders in the US got it almost perfectly right. The one mistake that they made (in a Liberty sense - I'm not addressing the issue of slavery here) was to make it too easy to change certain parts of the Constitution. For example, the representation of the States in the Senate is far more crucial to American Liberty (because it acts as a check on a runaway Federal government) than the voting age, yet both are equally easy to modify. When we gave up the States' representation, turning the Senate into a long-serving and less representative House of Representatives, we set up the conditions for the big-government programs we've had since the Depression. I believe that had the Founders split the Constitution into two parts, the essential and the mechanical, and made it easy to change the mechanical aspects and frightfully difficult to change the essential aspects, we would be more resistent to creeping Socialism and other types of bad philosophy.

But even then, there is always the possibility of a moment of fear, when we give up essential Liberty for transient and often illusory safety. As a result, it seems only a few hundred years might pass between the attainment of Liberty and the onset of tyranny. (Other cultures have obtained Liberty in the sense we understand it, but I'm unaware of any who've kept it for more than 500 years.) So ex-migration can keep those who are willing to take risks for Liberty free, but only so long as they keep moving deeper into the frontier. When they stop and settle down, they will almost certainly fall into tyranny within a few hundred years.

As to places on Earth where we could go, I'd pick Alaska. It has rich natural resources, an independent mindset already in place, geography which makes it not much of a threat to anyone, and it borders only Canada. Plus, the population is small enough that an influx of people with a common goal could tip the political balance. That said, though, it's not a very practical idea. We'd still have to deal with the Federal government, and secession is a well-settled issue.

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The Pursuit of Happiness

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Juan Non-Volokh links to this article about how property rights enforcement can prevent the (seemingly otherwise inevitable) destruction of commercially-viable fisheries.

What does this have to do with the pursuit of happiness? Locke's original formulation was life, liberty and property. These are the natural rights which government exists to protect. In fact, they are the description of freedom. If a government has arbitrary rights to take your life, liberty or property, that society will inevitably deteriorate into tyranny, as power accumulates towards the center, and the exercise of that power requires ever more arbitrariness in order to grow.

Jefferson's innovation, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," expands upon Locke in one important way: it recognizes that property ownership is a means to an end. Having property means that one has the ability to support one's self without the need for any outside agency - you could if necessary grow your own food and clothes stocks, make whatever implements you need and so forth, as well as sell your products for cash to pay taxes and buy needed goods you can't produce yourself, so long as you have enough land. (The necessary amount of land is remarkably small.) However, property ownership is really only a way of ensuring that you cannot be made desperate and miserable by others because of lack of food/money. The critical natural right is the ability to pursue happiness in whatever way you choose. Property rights allow you the resources to pursue that happiness.

The article about fisheries describes how property rights could prevent the destruction of this vital renewable resource, and how well-intentioned governments and environmentalist groups are actually making it more likely that the fish stocks will be depleted.

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May 10, 2003

Whither France?

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I think that the biggest question raised for me by this article, is whether France will see its sixth republic, or whether it will be able to forestall that by plunging Europe into the depths. And if Europe falls in line behind France, will Europe in the next decade resemble Europe in the 1930s?

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Core Principles for a Free Iraq

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Don Rumsfeld has an article in today's WSJ that is worth reading, on the future of Iraq.

It is now just seven weeks since Iraq's liberation--and the challenges are there. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "we are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed." It took time and patience, but eventually our Founders got it right--and we hope so will the people of Iraq--over time.

We have a stake in their success. For if Iraq--with its size, capabilities, and resources--is able to move to the path of representative democracy, the impact in the region and the world could be dramatic. Iraq could conceivably become a model--proof that a moderate Muslim state can succeed in the battle against extremism taking place in the Muslim world today.

We are committed to helping the Iraqi people get on that path to a free society. We do not have an American "template" we want to impose: Iraqis will figure out how to build a free nation in a manner that reflects their unique culture and traditions.

Rumsfeld lays out current and future Coalition activities. I must say that I've been a bit worried about the focus of the occupation, because it would be very easy to give in to the Scylla of turning Iraq over to Iraqis and getting out as fast as we can, or to the Charybdis of imposing forms and methods of governance on Iraqis. Reading Rumsfeld's list of principles, I am more confident now than ever that the Bush administration is steering a good course.

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And here is an example of why Lileks' bleats are so widely read:

I hear little feet hit the floor upstairs; I start up the stairs, and hear the feet scurrying back to bed. By the time I get to her room she's making fake snoring sounds. I'm raising an actress. Or a sociopath. And the difference is? Discuss.

From the same bleat, discussing advice to callers to talk radio shows:
3. If you met the host on a plane a year ago, or a reception six months ago, do not embarrass everyone by bringing it up. Unless you did something memorable, such as driving your heel into his foot while shouting I AM THE VENGEANCE OF ASHERON AND ALL HIS MINIONS the host probably won't remember who you are. It's nothing personal. (Unless it is.)

Can I be James Lileks when I grow up?

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Understanding Men

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Mrs. Du Toit explains women. I thought I'd return the favor.

Men are heirarchichal.

We are object oriented.

We define our schema in a file, whose syntax is very simple, but which requires several reboots and much swearing before it will really take full effect - little bits of old schema definitions end up cached somewhere in memory, and only come out when the right branch of a particular algorithm are triggered.

We are algorithmically driven, and don't deal well with dynamic reconfigurations.

We block on reads.

We cache writes and don't necessarily flush cache until a reboot.

Any time that the tables change, we need an expensive and time-consuming reindexing. If the tables are modified during the reindexing, we have to start over. During the reindexing, we are likely to return stale results, unless the system is down.

Deletes don't necessarily replicate. In such a case, you have to reissue the command.

We theoretically support transactions, but we are not very good about checking the handshake to ensure that everything is in sync before we acknowledge a connection. This sometimes leads to partially-committed transactions which are difficult to back out.

Our logs are an unreadable mess scattered all over the place.

Stack tracing is a futile gesture, returning pointers to long-freed routines (whose interfaces were muddled to begin with).

We take crashes with a grain of salt, as long as the system restarts normally, but we are deeply annoyed with recurring bugs.

In effect, we are Active Directory.

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Don't Senators READ the Constitution?

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Newsday reports (hat tip: the Volokh Conspiracy) that the Republicans in the Senate, tiring of the Democratic filibuster of President Bush's judicial nominees, are considering either taking the issue to court, or rewriting the rules so that 60 votes are not needed to end a filibuster.

I am just stunned that the Senators are even considering taking this issue to the courts. Shouldn't it be a requirement for office that the Senators have at least read the parts of the Constitution that define the powers of the Senate? The courts cannot have any say in the rules of the Senate, because the Constitution reserves to each chamber of Congress the power to set its own rules. This is cut and dried, and if they try this, the justices should not grant certiori.

Now, changing the rules within the Senate is just fine. The idea behind having 60 votes to end debate is that it would prevent a slim majority from voting on bills as soon as they were proposed, so as to keep the opposition from attempting to convince anyone to change their vote. However, the Senators of both parties have abused this to the point that it has become a way of making any controversial decision require a supermajority. I'm not convinced that this is necessarily bad, as long as the Senators are acting like Senators instead of party hacks, but sadly they more often act like party hacks. In any case, it is within both reason and the Constitution for the Senate to change its rules in such a way that the filibusters won't be sustainable.

In the longer term, I think that it would be wise for the States to change the Constitution so that, when "advise and consent" is called for, the Congress is assumed to have consented unless it votes to withdraw its consent within some reasonable time. Actually, if this were the rationale for the States to call for a Convention, I think that the Congress would pass an Amendment fairly quickly, in order to forestall a full Convention. I doubt that any of the Representatives or Senators want a Convention called. Just think of the threat it would represent to their sinicure...

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May 9, 2003


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Steven Den Beste has a post about the European Parliament and the number of members it has. He starts with the US House of Representatives:

The Senate of the US has two members for every state. That's right out of the Constitution. But there's no direct guidance for how big the House should be, except for a ceiling of no more than one Representative for every 30,000 citizens, which would mean about 9300 Representatives.

Obviously we don't have that many, and the reason is that quite a while ago it was recognized that as the chamber became larger it also became more unwieldy, and so the House itself capped its numbers at 435. What if it got larger?

It is certainly true that after a certain point, individual members have almost no real power in such a body. Certainly, there are issues that arise from having a small group of leaders in charge of all of the committee assignments, agenda and so forth. As Steven points out, these issues already arise in the House, at 435 members. I'm not sure, however, that this is really a problem.

The whole purpose of the House of Representatives is to give individual citizens a voice in government. The House's powers include, for example, the requirement that all tax bills originate in the House. The House has the sole power to impeach officers of the government. The primary method for a Representative to influence the law is by his vote. As a practical matter, the direction and agenda of the House is set by the Speaker and his officers. This is true even with the current size of 435 Representatives.

While the individual Representative's power decreases as the number of Representatives increases, the power of the individual citizen increases as the number of Representatives increases. This is because a Representative is representing few people. Texas, where I live, has 21,779,893 residents, according to the 2002 census estimates. Texas has 32 Representatives. That means that my Representative also has 680620 other citizens to represent. What are the odds of my influencing Kay Granger's vote? Now, if there were only 29999 other people competing for attention, I'd have more of an ability to influence that vote, and thus more individual power in government. Indeed, judging by the precinct map, I'd be able to walk to most of the people represented along with me. (I live in the very Northeast corner of the 12th district.)

Beyond having more influence over my Representative, I would have a chance of actually knowing the Elector who represents me. This would put pressure on the State (because I'd want this power, and so would a lot of other voters) to abandon winner-take-all electoral voting and replace it with more local selection of electors. In that case, the Electoral College could actually function the way it was meant to, aggregating the votes of small regions to select people of honor who could interview the Presidential candidates in great detail, and select the best candidate for President. This would act to temper the passions of the moment, and replace them with a longer-term view.

The levels of corruption and vote trading would decline, because it would be much, much harder to influence the House by influencing a few of its members. Alternative parties would be strengthened, because it would be easier for them to actually get people elected. In a district with almost 700000 people, an alternative party has no chance. In a district wtih 30000 people, there is a good chance that someone from a minor party could win an election. This would increase the diversity of the House, which would strengthen the laws by bringing in a more diverse set of viewpoints.

All in all, I'd say that having more Representatives is preferable to having fewer.

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I'm Feeling Ill, Too

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Glenn Reynolds notices this article from the Telegraph. Apparently what most struck Glenn was how diseased anti-Americanism is. Gregory Taylor, whom Glenn quotes, was apparently most struck by Ms. Drabble's lack of historical sense. I was, on the other hand, most struck by how those in love with language get so caught up in turning a beautiful phrase, that they forget how insipid and vapid:

My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.

or how inaccurate (it was Fat Man, not "Big Boy"):
Others have written eloquently about the euphemistic and affectionate names that the Americans give to their weapons of mass destruction: Big Boy, Little Boy, Daisy Cutter, and so forth.

or how trite:
We are accustomed to these sobriquets; to phrases such as "collateral damage" and "friendly fire" and "pre-emptive strikes". We have almost ceased to notice when suicide bombers are described as "cowards". The abuse of language is part of warfare. Long ago, Voltaire told us that we invent words to conceal truths. More recently, Orwell pointed out to us the dangers of Newspeak.

are the actual thoughts they are expressing.

I do like Glenn's idea of painting smiley faces on our weapons to disconcert the enemy. Maybe we could put a bunny stencil on the side as well.

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TX Democrats in a Snit

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I don't usually write about State politics, but this is really funny. Basically, what it comes down to is this:

  1. Democrats have historically had the upper hand in Texas politics, but this has been changing as the State becomes more right-wing and the Democrats nationally become more leftist.
  2. Democrats have used this upper-hand to form voting districts that will enshrine their upper-hand.
  3. It's time for redistricting to happen.
  4. The Republicans are in control of the redistricting process.
  5. The Republican plan will break the Democrats' hold, transferring some 4 to 7 seats to the Republicans.
  6. The Democrats are in a snit.
  7. The Democrats left the State, rather than allow a quorum to form that would vote on redistricting, and pass the Republican plan.
  8. Please note that this has been through court several times already.

I don't know why, but I find this really amusing.

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No-Knock Warrants

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No-knock warrants have always deeply disturbed me. If a handful of heavily-armed people, dressed as police, break down your door in the middle of the night, and rush into your house, what do you do? Are they really police, serving a no-knock warrant? Or are they criminals there to kill or rob you, who dressed as police to put you off guard? If you are Robert Rogers, do you throw away your gun so the police don't shoot you, or do you defend yourself and your wife against the "police?"

We as a free society should never be so desperate to convict that we have to resort to NKVD tactics in order to catch someone with drugs. And make no mistake, that is the purpose of most of these raids. (The Branch Dividian mess in Waco was an exception; that was for banned guns. Which it turned out did not exist, once the FBI sifted through the debris.) Why not just serve a normal warrant. If you cannot serve the warrant because the person to be served won't leave their residence, then wait them out, patiently. We've got all the time in the world, really. And if the concern is that police officers will be fired on, then wait for the suspect to leave the place and detain them, then execute the warrant.

Of course, the British have seen the solution to this dilemma: never defend yourself.

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May 1, 2003

We Have Extras

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Belgium's total land area is 30230 sq km. A W80 warhead has a yield of 150 kilotons, which translates to a blast radius of about 5km (about 4psi overpressure). I figure that it would take about 400 of them to take care of this. We have about 1300 in stock. I'm just saying...

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What Kind of Brain do you Have?

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Via The Edge of England's Sword, we have a very interesting theory about brains and behavior. My test scores:

Empathy: 32
Systemizing: 67 (!!!)

I suppose that's not too surprising, given my inclinations and skills.

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Wanna Bet?

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How much do you want to bet that the New York Times would not get onto a leftist for gambling? I'm no big fan of Bill Bennett, but given that this is an activity he has engaged in legally (no criminality), has not criticized as immoral (no hypocrisy), has not apparently done to the detriment of himself or others (no victim), and has admitted to frequently (no coverup), what is the big deal? It's not like he gets stinking drunk and then leaves his dates to drown, or gets blow jobs in the Oval Office while discussing foreign affairs with Senators, or is on the take or any of the numerous other things that leftist politicians have done which the Times has given them a free pass for. I'm all for setting high standards for public servants, but this is just stupid.

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