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July 24, 2003

Love Story

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.

In 1984, when I was in 9th grade at Del City High School, I was introduced by Ed Ashworth - my best friend - to Stephanie Starr, a new student who had just come back to the States from Germany a few months earlier. Within a very short time, I was completely infatuated, and ended up blurting out my feelings in the usual embarrassing way that teenagers do, except that I left a note rather than saying what I felt.

Steph and I didn't talk much for the next year and a half. I scared her off.

In the Summer after our junior year, I read Richard Bach's A Bridge Across Forever, about love and predestination, and saw a lot of how I felt about Steph in the book. So I mailed a copy to her. We started dating a few months later.

At the end of high school, with Steph heading down to SMU and I to OU, we broke up. We kept in touch, though, mainly in long and frequently-angry conversations by telephone, combined with visits on as many weekends as we could manage.

We went to an INXS concert in the Spring of 1988 - and had a great time - and got back together. For the rest of our college careers, we maintained a long-distance relationship. At the end of college, I had a very bad personal time - I fell apart pretty completely. It was the most difficult time in my life mentally and emotionally, and frankly I was a class A jerk to everyone around me for a period of almost two years.

Everyone who knew us - and probably most especially Steph's parents and friends - made pretty clear to Stephanie that she should dump me, because I was beyond saving. Thankfully, she didn't dump me. She wouldn't even let me dump her when I was insane enough to try it. She never let me give up on myself.

On this day in 1992, Stephanie and I got married, in the back yard of her parents' house, in a small but very beautiful ceremony.

The music was lovely - perfomed by a live group with a harpsichord and a violin (Go For Baroque, I think they were called). Steph's cousin Jennifer, then 2, who was a flower girl, tried to jump in the pool when she was walking to the bower, and then turned all of the flower petals upside down as the ceremony was starting. Brittany, my neice and the other flower girl, was so nervous she just kept peeking out from behind Steph's skirts, looking for her Mom and Dad, I think.

We were married by Steph's uncle, who was so nervous that when it came time to ask for the rings, he got the order wrong. Theresa, Steph's Maid of Honor, tossed her flowers over her head to Peggy, the other Bridesmaid, and got the ring to Cary quickly, despite her confusion. Steph somehow didn't notice any of this, until she looked down and saw the wrong ring on my finger, at which point she burst out laughing, along with the rest of the wedding party. (Steph's Mom at this point was gripped by the fear that Steph was about to back out of the wedding.)

Somehow, we got through the rest of the ceremony. The reception was held at Pepperoni Grill, but we had to catch a plane, and weren't there long enough to actually, oh, eat or anything. (Nor did we get champagne - for some reason they gave us cider instead. The guests got champagne. Hmmph!)

We got to the Excalibur in Vegas after midnight to start our honeymoon. We had pizza and champagne - because that's all that the room service could deliver at that time of night, and we were starving. Pizza, it must be said, does not go with champagne.

Today, I have been married to Stephanie for 11 years. In that time, we've had 4 wonderful sons, and more love than I knew was possible on the day we married.

I love you, sweetie.

Happy anniversary.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Beaten Like Rented Mules

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.

When President Carter came into office, the military was in utter shock. Viet Nam had been a military victory over the original enemy, the Viet Cong; but the victory had been so pyrrhic, so domestically divisive, and so fragile (in that we never removed the threat of invasion by the N. Vietnamese army) that most Americans didn't realize that it was a military victory at all. When this was combined with the political defeat - not rearming the South, nor remaining to defend them, followed by President Ford abandoning them altogether (not even offshore air support) in the face of the North Vietnamese invasion of 1975 - it led to a complete collapse of confidence in the ability of the military to function. This loss of confidence was prevalent throughout the military at all ranks, in the society at large, and in particular in the foreign/defense policy community.

The Democrats had made their decision by the early 1970s: the military was to blame for all the evils of the Viet Nam war, no credit was to be had by anyone - and particularly not by the Republicans, who had extracted us from Viet Nam (as promised by Nixon in 1968). There is a bit of irony here, in that it was the muscular liberal Democrats - the Harry Truman/Scoop Jackson wing - which had gotten us into Viet Nam, continually escalated our involvement and then refused to carry the war to the North (thus eventually costing us the war). But this wing of the Democratic party was also in the doldrums - in shock at the conduct and outcome of the war, and sidelined by the McGovernites and the radical fringe groups he had brought with him into control of the party.

Carter immediately set about gutting the military, and purging its ranks. This was done by the simple expedient of cutting funding, ignoring his military advisors and publically and frequently talking down to the military establishment.

The foreign/defense policy expertise built up by the Democrats resided in the now-discredited Scoop Jackson wing of the party, and the Carter administration ignored their advice on almost every policy issue of substance. As a result of this and the cost of fighting the war, by the end of the Carter administration, the military had lost a generation of equipment upgrades, had had their warfighting doctrine shattered, and had their reputation publically trampled by their Commander in Chief. The military was in total shock, and the country was not far behind. The economy was also in the toilet (double digit inflation, unemployment and interest rates), and the word most used to describe America was "malaise."

President Reagan was not elected by such a broad margin because of the Iran hostage crisis; that was just a symptom of the malaise. Reagan offered hope. Reagan pointed to the vision of our better selves, to the "shining city on a hill," and called on America to become that city. He made us believe that we were better than we thought of ourselves. It really felt like morning in America, after a long, dark night.

One of the things Reagan did was to make it clear that we were going to defeat Communism, to win the Cold War, and that to do this we needed a robust and confrontational foreign policy, and a large, well-equipped and well-led military. Reagan remade the military command structure, brought pride back into military service, upgraded the military's equipment, fixed a large number of logistical problems and gave the military a mission, which brought forth the Air-Land Battle doctrine. In doing all of this, Reagan reached out to the Democrats' Scoop Jackson wing. Today's neo-cons were called "Reagan Democrats" in the early 1980s.

Schools, and even colleges, don't really teach foreign and defense policy. The closest most get is history, and that field has largely been taken over at the academic level by people who fear and distrust not just America, but the idea of America. The foreign and defense policy cadres of a party are trained by the generation that preceeded them. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and the like were trained by the foreign/defense policy wonks of the Johnson administration, who had themselves been trained by the Truman administration.

Because the "Reagan Democrats" left the party in droves, and came over to the Republicans, there was a generational break in policy development within the Democratic party. Perle and Wolfowitz and the like have trained not Democratic, but Republican policy makers. The Democrats simply don't have much expertise left.

The prominent names in the Democratic party for foreign and defense policy would have to be Sam Nunn, Leon Fuerth, and Richard Holbrooke. Sam Nunn seems to be out of politics. (He had been involved with a program at Georgia Tech, but that seems to have been cancelled, or at least scaled back, in the last year or so.) There is no Democratic equivalent to the think tanks and sponsorship and mentoring that allow Republicans to develop and hone the skills and gain the experience needed to craft policy at the highest levels.

Porphyrogenitus comments as well, though I think he misses one point. The pool of people who develop the national grand strategy is very small, and non-partisan. Note that the current grand strategy, that of bringing democratic self-government to failed states, began to take shape under Clinton, with the policies of pre-emption (then called forward engagement) and regime change taking shape. Note that President Bush came in disavowing that strategy, yet has since 9/11 not just embraced it, but extended it, to include the concepts of equivalence (treating sponsors of terrorism as terrorists), denial of nuclear weapons to dictatorships (still being worked out in regards to North Korea, which obtained them before Bush came into office) and ad-hoc coalitions to settle specific problems (replacing reliance on the UN, NATO and other permanent internationalist organizations). Because of the nature under which the grand strategy is developed, it is likely to change slowly and infrequently. By and large, both parties will adopt the goals the grand strategy sets.

The problem is at the level of strategy to implement those goals. It is here that Steven Den Beste's overview plays out. If you accept Steven's summary, as I would venture to say most supporters of the Iraq campaign would, as being plausible, then you basically align with the President's method of waging the greater war on terrorism so far. If not, and most opponents of the war apparently would not, you would want to take a radically different approach. And this is the level at which the Democrats have totally failed to be able to make coherent policy, likely to improve America's security situation.

Instead, this is what passes for Democratic thought on foreign policy. The whole focus is on how wrong America is, how much we are to blame, how irresponsible we are, how we need to make room for the adults (the UN and Europeans) to rule the world. This is just not a policy that the broad majority of Americans will accept. It is the policy that brings people into the streets to protest capitalism, democracy and personal liberty, and it is a policy relies on the hatred of not just America, but the idea of America.

This is not just, as Trent would apparently have it, a problem for the Democrats; it is a problem for America. It's a problem for America precisely because, as long as we are at war and the Democrats don't have a serious foreign policy team, the Republicans will "beat[] them like rented mules." The political competition between the two parties is what keeps the Right from imposing social conformity according to their religious doctrine, and the Left from imposing dictatorship and tearing down capitalism according to their political doctrine. This competition is good for us, and we as a nation will suffer for the lack of it.

Yet there will be little competition in national elections as long as we are at war, and the Democrats are unserious about national security. The Democrats had a chance to figure this out in 2002, but instead chose to go with the fantasy ideology of believing that they weren't pure enough on the Left, and immediately elevated Nancy Pelosi to control of the Democrats in the House. This was a sure signal, and it was followed by the appearance of Dean and Kucinich and Kerry as contenders in the presidential nomination process. The Democrats will have another chance to figure this out after their forthcoming humiliation in 2004. I really hope that such a beating is sufficient to get the Democrats to change direction, because if they don't we could all be "dead and damned" - not just the Democrats.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

What She Said

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I agree with everything Megan said here.

UPDATE: Gak! Not looking at the bylines closely enough on a group blog (even a group of two) can cause one - well, me in this case - to misattribute authorship. I meant to say, "I agree with everything Mindles said here." Mea culpa maxima.

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Pathetic

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Just read - but only if you really want to be angry. By homeschooling our kids, we ensure that not only will they actually know this country's history (and the world's), but that they will see the good points of the country, as well as the bad.

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Gratuitous Pandering for Linkage, a Sonnet to Frank J.

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I present, in a blatant attempt to get Frank J. to link to me, a pandering, brown-nosing sonnet:

If there were but one perfect site,
A treasure to beguile with prose,
humor, irony, unfair blows,
then here my browser would alight
for funny potshots from the right:
There is none but IMAO's
for reading while your laughter grows
and bringing forth of pure delight.

Sound the applause - sound the alarm!
Let no more puppies instablend,
but only monkeys come to harm.
Buck the Marine will us defend.
Rumsfeld, Chomps and Condi charm
and foes of freedom meet their end.

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Losing the Thread

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It always amazaes me to see people completely missing the point of their jobs, or their place in society. Particularly in our society, where we choose our own societal roles. This is a propos of nothing, but I'd like to list a few jobs that routinely get their places wrong, and suggest what those places are.

Librarians are not primarily needed for running libraries. Librarians are needed because they have the skills, training and temperment for cataloging and classifying information. While being the caretakers of books and the places that they are housed is important, it is far more important that librarians help us to organize the knowledge we are being continually flooded with. Some areas where librarians could help would be in organizing online content (or coming up with a uniform system of organization that would work online, and be easy to implement); creating a true encyclopedia, or at least a reference document that lays out where all of the definitive information on any given topic can be found (the encyclopedias we have are simply not comprehensive, and there is no universal catalog of knowledge); or working to define the proper scope of intellectual property protections to serve the interest of creating the largest possible public domain of intellectual property.

Lawyers are not primarily needed for filing lawsuits, or deciding what inoffensive text can be placed inside Spy Kids 3-D glasses to keep someone from being sued1. Lawyers are primarily needed to help non-specialists make sense of the requirements of the law, and to defend ourselves against the predations of an overzealous government.

Speaking of the predations of government, the purpose of politicians and bureaucrats is not to define what our society should be, but to create an environment in which our society can freely develop. Passing laws about private acts, or creating victimless crimes, or making regulations which have some feel-good benefit for "society" (but which actually end up infringing on people's rights) are not the proper actions of our government. The proper scope of our government is to secure to us, the citizens, our rights - and this means that we need to be secure from foreign intervention, violent domestic unrest, and government meddling. The government does a decent job on the foreign intervention part of the equation, and an arguably passable job on the domestic unrest part, but fails totally at protecting us from the intervention of our more meddlesome and power-hungry types.

Finally, the purpose of teachers is to pass along factual knowledge, cultural context, and techniques for gathering additional factual information and for connecting those facts and contextual hints through logic and reasoning. The total abdication of this mission by the teachers in favor of proselytizing for their preferred worldview, boosting self-esteem (without the necessary component of self-worth) and fairness (without the necessary component of justice) and enforced equality (rather than allowing personal achievement) - this abdication is, I believe, where we can lay the blame for the other misunderstandings noted above.

Note 1: the text is "WARNING: Not for extended wear, performing physical activity, or outside play. Not to be used as sunglasses or for any other use other than shown." It's in English, French and Spanish.

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July 23, 2003

The War on Bad Philosophy

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Armed Liberal termed this conflict we are in, in all of its manifestations, the War on Bad Philosophy. Prime Minister Blair has laid out a very strong, classically liberal, Enlightenment-derived case for what we must do to win the war.

I initially approached this war from a very pragmatic and realpolitik viewpoint: we were attacked, and we have to kill those who attacked us. I still believe that that is a valid viewpoint, but I have been beginning to think that it is an incomplete view - in fact that it is the lesser view. The greater, the more important view is that we - not just Americans, but we free peoples who inherited the Enlightenment, who built true freedom and prosperity not only here, but in nations once our enemies - we all have an idealistic responsibility to make all people free. Only when all people are free - when all nations are able to stand up proudly and say that they chose their government and their government serves them - then and only then will we be able to call this war done.

It is a huge undertaking, and it requires two precursors to bring it about: a stated philosophy, and an institution dedicated to achieving the principles of that philosophy. So here are my questions:

What are the hallmarks of a free person? What must a person be able to truthfully say, that differentiates him from a person who is not free?

What would an organization look like, whose goal was to bring freedom - personal, political and economic - to the entire world?

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Settling Space

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In the early days of aviation, it was not uncommon for the government to offer prizes for accomplishing certain feats. Private people and organizations were also involved. Today, the X-Prize foundation is attempting to take that idea into the space age, with a $10 million prize for the first 3-person craft to fly to 100km altitude twice in 2 weeks.

It's a laudable goal, but only half of the equation. The government is too busy repeating itself to even take a good look at what our goals in space should be. Given the nature of government and bureaucracy, it's not surprising that NASA has become an organization whose primary use is to extract more funding, turning it into jobs (and thus votes) in key congressional districts. However, the government could quite easily get a lot done in space, for significantly less money than is currently being invested, if it wanted to. It could do this by offering prizes for a variety of tasks which do not require research to attempt, because that has already been done. For example:

1. The international space station could be awarded to the first private group which puts a person on board the station. This has the added benefit of getting that white elephant off the taxpayers' backs.
2. The X-Prize could be matched with government money, radically altering the cost equation and bringing more competitors into the field. Alternatively, the money could be used to extend the timeline of the X-Prize.
3. A prize of $50 million could be offered for the first private manned flight to LEO, and a further $100 million for the first private manned flight to GEO.
4. A prize of $250 million could be offered for the first private lunar surface probe, a further prize of $2 billion for the first private person to get to the moon, and finally a prize of $3 billion for the first private person to get to the moon and stay there for 1 year.
5. Similar prizes for Mars, but with larger payouts ($30 billion for the first person, another $20 billion if they stay for at least 1 Earth year, etc), could be offered.

The key would be to force the prize winners to make their designs public, and allow royalty-free use of their patents after they are awarded the prize. This would advance the state of the art, as well as likely providing a market for NASA to cheaply obtain needed equipment to fulfill whatever goals the government finds useful. Finally, this concept would start the exploration of space in earnest. (I'd bet you that someone would come up with a ship that could take a crew to Mars for a year, and use it to try to collect all of the prizes. Heck, I'd be looking for funding, because I think it could be done for less than the amounts specified above: there's not much new science here, and the engineering is well-understood.)

It'll never happen, of course, because the government is a control freak by nature, but it's nice to contemplate.

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July 21, 2003

Liberty vs. License

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Randy Barnett has an excellent analysis of the Lawrence opinion. In particular, his distinction between Liberty and License: "Instead, he puts all his energy into demonstrating that same-sex sexual freedom is a legitimate aspect of liberty — unlike, for example, actions that violate the rights of others, which are not liberty but license." This is a concept too lacking in our post-New Deal courts, and one I hope to see make a comeback. I'd like to see the 9th amendment take on meaning again.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Come and Get Us

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In the comments to this CalPundit post (on the unmourned deaths of Udai and Qusay Hussein), "Mike" says:

We attack, invade, and conquer a country without U.N backing, lying repeatedly to justify our action, then we hunt down and slaughter members of the former ruler's family. If this isn't a war crime to be charged to Bush and his regime, it ought to be.

In the words of my lovely wife:

This is a war crime? Fine! If Saddam wins he can try us for it.

I love my wife.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

July 20, 2003

No Barber of Occam

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Henceforth, I shall refer to Michael Moore as Occam's Stubble.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The End of the World

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 a really good post in this week's Carnival of the Vanities, talking about how 9/11 changed international relations, and asking the important question, of whether we should grant the demands of the radical Islamists. After all, he notes, the demands are rather scary:

  • Accept Islam as the one true faith
  • Stop 'fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest'
  • Accept that the Muslims are entitled to take over all of Israel because they are the 'inheritors of the true Torah'.
  • Accept Islamic theocracy as the just form of government.
  • Accept the anti-semitic libel that Jews are a great evil that is controlling our society, government, media, and economy, and act to prevent their influence.
  • Prevent women from working
  • Abandon the entertainment industry
  • Sign the Kyoto treaty
  • Give up industry and business and capitalism
  • Ignore human rights abuses in Islamic countries

And yet, if we were to grant some of them (such as disfavoring Israel), would that be enough to satisfy the Islamists' rage against us? In other words, should we listen to the Islamists and give them what they want? And if not, then what should we do?

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The Surreal World of Iraq

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Victor Davis Hanson writes yet another great column, this time on the contraditions and unreality of Iraq, and our soldiers' ability to do their jobs through it all.

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July 19, 2003

One Half of the War

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I've said before, more than once, that there are two enemies we are fighting: radical Islamism and radical Leftism. The former seeks to use America and Israel as a proxy enemy for the real enemy: moderate Islamism. The latter also has a real enemy, and it is not the one that attacked us on September 11; it is the Enlightenment liberal ideology on which the United States is founded. In other words, we are struggling against those who would destroy the West from within because the West's ideals don't fit with theirs, and those who would destroy the West from without because it allows them to attack their own moderates' position, without directly attacking the moderates (which is, in Islam, pretty seriously forbidden).

Porphyrogenitus talks about the internal half of that equation, and says a lot of things I have been thinking, far better than I could have said them. I don't know how we can defeat our internal enemy, except by espousing a public ideology which explicitly rejects theirs. The problem, of course, is that the internal enemies of the West control the educational institutions, entertainment companies and many of the religious institutions, which together make up the major methods our society has for forming a public ideology. I think that the solution will require, in part, forcing the forces of anti-Enlightenment thought (at least in the anglophone countries) to support themselves. In other words, cut them off the government dole which gives them time, money and a platform to speak.

As to the external forces, I have more hope. Attacks by Muslims upon other Muslim factions, such as those which happened recently in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are the fruit of our labors so far. It has become so difficult to successfully attack the West, and Israel has been attacked to the point where pushing much further would lead to a slaughter of the Arabs, that Muslim radicals are being forced to attack their moderate Muslim enemies directly.

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July 18, 2003

Perfect Example of Fisking

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Tim Blair provides a most excellent example of the art of the fisk:

What is actually required is a redistribution of fertile land, of incomes and of economic power, rather than access to genetic products.
Hey, it's working in Zimbabwe.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Liberia

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There has been a great deal of discussion in the blogosphere and the mainstream press of the potential for US intervention in the Liberian civil war. (See for example the LA Times, Porphyrogenitus, Right Wing News, Michael Totten, Fox News, Courtney, the New Republic, and this related Winds of Change article on the Congo)

I have been undecided on this issue - actually, a bit conflicted. There are two arguments I would buy for intervention. The first is that we need to bring peace and stability to the entire world in order to truly guarantee the peace and stability of the first world nations, especially ourselves. Given that, and that Liberia is certainly in need of peace and stability, and that people are actually happy with the concept of US intervention there, Liberia is a reasonable place to go now. The second is that Africa needs an example of nationbuilding along the lines of what we are trying to do in Iraq, and Liberia has timber and diamonds and seaports that can be used to bring an inherent wealth to the country, absent civil war and criminal exploitation of the resources to enrich the area's elites (as opposed to serve as a foundation of a national economy).

However, I don't think that these are truly compelling, in the way that the counterarguments are. First, we are deeply committed already in numerous places around the globe. In addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, we are in Korea and continue to maintain contingency forces for a possible Korean conflict; we are in the Balkans; we are (with SOF at least) in Colombia, and that mission could grow larger if Venezuela falls apart; and we still have a number of other missions (like sea control and training rotations) that we have to maintain. In other words, we are stretched to the point that our active duty ground combat force that remains uncommitted is basically the bulk of the Marine Corps. The last thing we want to do right now is to start committing that force to long-term peacekeeping missions in a variety of disconnected hellholes which don't fit into our security strategy.

Secondly, we currently have no real dog in the Liberian fight. Arguments about "America's historical connection to Liberia" are both true and irrelevant. That connection was brief, and more than 150 years ago. Liberia is not a "little America" in Africa; it is a typical West African coastal country, no more connected to America (in any real sense) than is its neighbor, Sierra Leone. If we intervene, even as a backup to ECOMOG, you can be assured that we will suddenly be responsible for every aspect of the security of Liberia and all of its neighboring states, at least in the eyes of "the international community". We would get all of the blame for decades of conflict since the end of European colonialism in Africa, without any credit for anything that goes right. In other words, we'd be expending blood and treasure and reputation - all needed for the War on Terror - for no gain to us.

Third, the problem in the region appears to be Charles Taylor, the Liberian president. A traditional peacekeeping mission would simply freeze the situation in place, which would have the effect of keeping Taylor in power, capable of interfering throughout the region as he sees fit. At the least, such a mission would slow down the necessary process of change that will remove Taylor from power and his followers permanently from the field.

One lesson forgotten by the Europeans is how much fighting and horror had to go on over 300 years for Europe to sort out its borders, economy and forms of government. It is not likely the case that such solutions can be imposed by fiat on sovereign nations, presuming we grant that any internationally-recongized border defines a sovereign nation. It is certainly not true that such impositions have worked in the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia - all places where they have been tried. (Note the contrast to South America, North America and Europe (excluding the Balkans), where the borders formed organically via struggles among the various peoples and interests involved. In all of those places, the borders are commonly accepted, and the nations are generally at peace with one another.)

So, all taken together, I don't believe that there is a case for intervention by the US. What does interest me, though, is why such notables as the European elites, Kofi Annan, the Congressional Black Caucus, Dennis Kucinich and others who were resolutely opposed to American intervention in Iraq, are calling for American intervention in Liberia. I think that it comes down to the most cynical motive of all: anti-Americanism (and, in the US, anti-Republicanism). What would the Left get out of an American intervention in Liberia?

Well, for one thing, the UN would regain legitimacy it lost in the Iraq crisis. Iraq would become seen as an aberration, rather than the first step in a process of UN decline in relevance. UN peacekeeping operations would similarly be religitimized, as the US recognized both their intent and their form, no matter how disconnected from American interests.

For another, America would be engaged in another Balkans-like intervention, which would drag on for years with no reasonable end. The precedent thus set would embolden the UN and EU to demand intervention be initiated or maintained by the US in a number of other hotspots, "to prevent a human catastrophe" of course. The net effect would be to slowly but surely tie American forces down, to prevent or make more difficult US interventions in Korea, Iran, Syria or other places where our national security might actually be threatened, or where we might need to go in a long-term struggle to remove the social and economic underpinnings of terrorism. This reduced freedom of action would make America less activist.

Also, there would be a sudden cost shift almost entirely onto American shoulders, as we became responsible for all of the logistics, equipment, pay and what have you, not only of the other peacekeeping forces which we would lead, but also of the UN operations and NGOs who swoop around such tragedy like vultures. As a benefit, no matter what the UN and NGOs did, the responsibility for any problems would fall on America, while any credit for success would go to the UN and NGOs. Not a bad package, really, if you are the UN or the NGOs.

For the Democrats, this would certainly be an issue used against President Bush in next year's elections. After all, will go the chorus, if President Bush were really serious about the War on Terror, why did he intervene in Liberia when we so evidently needed those forces elsewhere? And what about these petty interventions driving up the debt during a time of deficits and war? Like Kerry's vote in favor of Iraqi intervention, a million reasons will be given for why the Democrats didn't need to see this coming, and the Bush administration did. This barrage of criticism and self-absolution would be used to cloud the issue and paper over the Democrats' own calling for intervention. And best of all, if the intervention failed, look what a political bonanza that would be for the Democrats!

So I can see why the Left wants to intervene. But they won't get my support.

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July 17, 2003

It Could be Worse

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Bill Kristol has a Weekly Standard column up on the Democrats' and media's attempts to turn President Bush's State of the Union comment, on Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from Africa, into a scandal. He is pretty dismissive of the media coverage:

American journalism's frenzy over the thing--the hyperbolic, rush-to-judgment, believe-the-worst character of the coverage--has been plenty bad enough. But the Democratic party has been even worse. Here, for example, is what unsuspecting Internet visitors learn from the Democratic National Committee's website: There has been "a year-long campaign of deception involving a bogus intelligence report on Iraq's nuclear program." And who has directed this deception, for reasons so terrible, apparently, that they cannot be identified? DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe has cracked the conspiracy: "This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of the Union address," he says. And "this was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error."

OK, let's face it, this is still more entertaining and less gruesome than the Chandra Levy story of two years ago, or last year's Laci Peterson story. IfWhen the media is going to be lazy, at least they could dohave recently done worse than to focus people's attention on a story where, should they choose to do followup reading, they could learn something meaningful.

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No Suprise Here

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Mark at ShaKaRee posted his results to this quiz about how closely one's political positions agree with various candidates. Even though the questions tended to have one stereotypical right-wing response, and multiple and nuanced left-wing responses, and though the "Libertarian Candidate" goes unnamed, I can not argue with the results:

  1. Libertarian Candidate ��(100%)
  2. Bush, George W. - US President ��(87%)
  3. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat ��(65%)
  4. Phillips, Howard - Constitution ��(55%)
  5. Graham, Senator Bob, FL - Democrat ��(54%)
  6. Gephardt, Cong. Dick, MO - Democrat ��(52%)
  7. Lieberman Senator Joe CT - Democrat ��(50%)
  8. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat ��(50%)
  9. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat ��(45%)
  10. Kucinich, Cong. Dennis, OH - Democrat ��(37%)
  11. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol IL - Democrat ��(22%)
  12. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat ��(18%)
  13. LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. - Democrat ��(-9%)

I am a little bummed that everyone from Dennis Kucinich on down scored as high as they did. It's a little surprising that John Edwards rated so high, though I suspect that his and my versions of "prefer other solutions" are in fact wildly different.

So come on Mark, uncheck the box that takes third-party candidates off the ballot and let's see where the third parties fall on your scale.

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Intelligence

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Andrew Olmstead looks at the structure of US intelligence agencies in the light of the report of the joint Congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks. He concludes that the structure of the intelligence agencies made detection of the plot impossible, and that the unchanged structure of the intelligence agencies would thus also be unable to detect future plots of a similar type. He recommends a thorough restructuring of the intelligence agencies.

I think that it would be helpful, before doing so, to reflect on why the existing intelligence agencies are what they are.

There are three basic types of information that can be determined by intelligence agencies: capabilities (who has what methods of doing damage), intentions (who intends to do what) and general information (commercial information, like research goals and manufacturing techniques; economic information like resource exploitation and allocation, farm production and the like; and so on). Much of the information that's gathered comes from open sources, and I suspect that the majority of our actual intelligence work consists of drawing connections between disparate information in open sources. This, incidentally, is why totalitarian societies try to keep all of that kind of information secret, to the point that SARS became widespread in China - it was illegal to publish information on who was getting what diseases. Each of our intelligence agencies, plus the counter-intelligence and (to a lesser extent) domestic investigative parts of the FBI, gather information from each of these areas.

Prior to WWII, we didn't have any method for determining intentions. We could detect capabilities to an extent, mostly through open sources, and from the military's efforts. We could gather general information from open sources and the State Department's efforts. But we couldn't really tell what someone intended. There was a huge time required, for example, to determine that the Japanese carriers had all disappeared, put that together with the intercepted diplomatic communiques and the knowledge of Japanese training with shallow-water torpedos, and determine that therefore the Japanese were planning on striking a shallow-water harbor by air; and since they were having difficult relations with us, it would probably be one of our harbors. (Actually, I don't think that we knew about the shallow-water torpedo experiments, and even the infamous bomb-plot communique to the Japanese Hawaii consulate wasn't enough to set off the warning bells in the Army defending Hawaii.) The time was in fact so long, and the analytical capability so rudimentary and scattered, that we never did determine that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor.

In the wake of WWII, we determined to never again allow ourselves to be surprised, and so we formed the intelligence structure that we have today, adding new agencies as new capabilities became available. And let's face it, our intelligence agencies are supremely capable of determining where enemy forces are; how they are equipped, manned and trained; and what they are capable of doing. That is why we have satellites and listening posts and underwater microphone arrays and the like. It's also why we de-emphasized human intelligence (spies): they didn't add a lot to the mix, in the grand scheme of things.

However, this structure was and is supremely incapable of non-state actors. The FBI is more-or-less set up for it, but that is not the primary role of the FBI, and the FBI mainly is involved in domestic law enforcement. Just as we did after Pearl Harbor, America is saying "Never again." But we don't have the capabilities to make that possible.

So, yes, we do need to reform our intelligence agencies. We need to separate analysis from information gathering. We need to make general intelligence, which is after all gathered from public sources, publically available to everyone in the intelligence community, the military, the State Department, Congressional Staffs, even the interested public. We need to focus the analysts on specific types of threats or customers: state actors, non-state actors, diplomatically-useful information, militarily-useful information. We need to make available to the analysts the information gathered from any means. (An analyst looking at Iraq needs to be able to see the communications intercepts, the military reconnaisance, the satellite data, the general information, and so forth all at once.) When we find holes in information gathering, we need to plug them immediately. When we find holes in analysis, we need to plug them immediately. Most of all, we need to hold people accountable for failure - not the expected failure of missing something when the signs are ambiguous, but the systemic failures of ignoring intelligence for political reasons, for example.

I am not qualified to say what our intelligence agencies should look like, but I hope that the Congress will act soon to reform our intelligence agencies, so that when we say "Never again," we can be confident that can back that up.

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Mark Steyn on Liberia

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This is why Mark Steyn gets paid to write out opinions, and I don't:

With Iraq, there was no agreement on what the thing was about: it's all about oil, said the anti-war crowd; it's about the threat Saddam represents to the world, said the pro-crowd. But with Liberia there's virtually unanimous agreement: the US has no vital national interest in the country; its tinpot tyrant is no threat to anybody beyond his backyard; the three warring parties are all disgusting and none has the makings of even a halfway civilised government. For many on the Right, these are reasons for steering clear of the place. For the Left, they're why we need to send the Marines in right now.

It's precisely the lack of any national interest that makes it appealing to the progressive mind. By intervening in Liberia, you're demonstrating your moral purity. That's why all the folks most vehemently opposed to American intervention in Iraq — from Kofi Annan to the Congressional Black Caucus — are suddenly demanding American intervention in Liberia. The New York Times is itching to get in: "Three weeks have passed since President Bush called on the Liberian President, Charles Taylor, to step aside, and pledged American assistance in restoring security. But there has been no definitive word here on how or when. "

...

Three weeks! And Bush is still just talking! The Times spent 14 months deploring the "rush to war" in Iraq, but mulling over Liberia for three weeks is the worst kind of irresponsible dithering.

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July 16, 2003

Credit Where it's Due

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If you've read any of my rants about homeschooling vs. public schooling, it would probably surprise you to know that I actually don't have a problem with the concept of public schools. The problem that I have is that our system is mandatory, monopolistic, intrusive, expensive and frequently doesn't work in the most rudimentary sense. However, I'd like to point out a school district that is doing something right, particularly because my local school taxes go to pay for this. The article is from the Keller Citizen, and is not available online, so I will retype it here:


Back to the Books
By LINDA TAYLOR

Keller ISD students are headed back to the classrooms Monday, and for those at Florence Elementary School in Southlake, there will be some exciting and innovative additions to their curriculum, Principal Mark Martin said.

Florence is the first KISD school to begin incorporating elements of a classical education into its regular curriculum. The goal of the program is to teach children how to think and instill a love for learning that will last a lifetime, Martin said.

The knowledge of more than one language is an integral part of the concept.

"Studies have shown that a child who learns a second language at an early age does better in school than one who doesn't," Martin said. "With that in mind, we are introducing Spanish to our students during the announcements each day. Each morning, our head custodian, Gabriela Prado, will introduce a Spanish word or phrase."

In addition to the vocabulary learned each morning, a computer program on the school's computer system will help teachers at the different grade levels teach Spanish.

Martin said familiarity with Latin and a second modern language gives children the ability to determine the meanings of new words by associating them with words from another language.

"Spanish is a very usable language for students in this part of the country," Martin said. "And since most languages such as Spanish, French and English have similarities, students use their knowledge of one to learn another."

Students at Florence will also be introduced to Latin during the school year. Leearning roots, prefixes and suffixes will help students in vocabulary development, Martin said.

"Although Latin is no longer spoken, all of our words come from the Latin roots, suffixes and prefixes," Martin said. "In the long run, this will help our students achieve better scores on college entrance exams. It will also possibly give them an advantage in earning scholarships for higher education."

The various classroom teachers sat down together and created a vocabulary list for each grade level, Martin said. Because this is the first year for this project, he expects some changes to be made throughout the school year.

Another new element welcoming students back to school is a timeline painted along one of Florence's halls. Once complete, the 56-foot-long timeline will depict historical events from cave drawings to the present.

The timeline, which is being painted by art teacher Gina Menasco and Karen Schwab, a parent volunteer, will be used by students at each grade level.

Students will be able to write essays about the subjects they are studying, illustrate them with drawings of their own and place them in the appropriate spot.

"This way, our students can see what else was happening in the world at the same time as the invention of the automobile or construction of the White House," Martin said. "This gives them a sense of how everything is affected by events that occur at the same time."

Martin has high praise for his faculty, staff and parents. He pointed out that this year's additions to the curriculum mean extra work for everyone involved.

"There are certain subjects and skills we are required to teach," he said. "The new things are just a way of enriching the students' education. They are the icing on the cake."


A classical education is difficult and time-consuming for the parents, teachers and students. It takes a lot of work, but provides the best possible liberal (in the original sense) education available. Most of all, it requires parents, teachers and administrators to believe in the capacity, intelligence and willingness to work of the students. This is an excellent start down a very rewarding path.

Bravo to all concerned.

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July 15, 2003

What About the Supreme Court, Though?

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Robert Prather, at The Mind of Man, has a post on a fantastic-looking bill in the House. The Enumerated Powers Act would force the Congress to state the Constitutional provision that gives Congress the authority to pass such a law. Excellent bill, and should be passed.

Of course, giving the Supreme Court's tendency, since FDR's administration, to assume powers not Constitutionally forbidden to the Congress are granted to the Congress (the 9th and 10th Amendments and the Federalist Papers' explanations notwithstanding), I don't know that the bill would do much real-world good. But there's always hope.

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July 14, 2003

Separation of Church and State

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Chris Noble thinks it's OK for an Alabama judge to prominently display a monument of the ten commandments in his court's rotunda.

I believe that the appeals court decision is correct in a legal sense, but it's not good for the moral fabric of the nation.

But let's look a little deeper here. What is the real problem?

Is it the actual text of the Ten Commandments? If so, which one? I find it hard to believe that someone could possibly have a problem with "thou shalt not kill" or "thou shalt not steal."

The Ten Commandments aren't important because they are some special super secret Judeo-Christian bit of wisdom that no one else could ever possibly understand. No, the Ten Commandments are important because they are universal truths. They are the foundations of a civil society, of one based on laws.

So what is the problem with the monument in the courthouse?

I suppose that if you believe that this is an explicitly Christian nation, then the reasoning above is OK. The problem is, not all of us are Christians.

The ten commandments, while they include some statements I agree with, are explicitly religious and explicitly monotheistic. (I'll take them apart in a few moments, so that you don't have to take that statement "on faith," as it were.) As a result, displaying them in a place where they could provide license or inhibition is simply wrong on the part of the government, both Constitutionally and morally.

If such an explicitly religious monument is allowed in a place where jurors have to pass by before sitting for trial, isn't the government, in the person of the judge, saying to them that it's OK to use their religion - rather than the law - to make judgements? Isn't it saying to me, as a Pagan, that my chances of a fair trial are diminished in that courthouse? If so - and I believe that it is so - then the moral case is against the display.

Were a judge to put up an equally universal religious principle that is non-Christian, would that be OK? Were I a judge, could I carve into the courthouse floor: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will." Even if I agreed with the sentiment, it would still be wrong for me to do so, because it is the place of the government to set and preserve the conditions for a free and just society, not to determine the form and content of that society.

(see the More... link at the bottom for an offtopic discussion of the quote I used.)

If the judge wants to put up the commandments in his chambers, I have no problem with that. To do so in the public area of the courthouse, though, is to attempt moral suasion in a way inconsistent with the Constitution and the law.

I also cannot accept the premise, frequently stated, that the ten commandments are not specifically religious and specifically monotheistic, nor that there is not a valid way to view "Thou shalt not kill" as other than a religious (moral, in this case, rather than dogmatic) assertion.

Here are the commandments, from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, along with my gloss on the commandments as regards the American legal system.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:2-3 & Deutueronomy 5:6-7

This commandment compels worship of a particular god. This is explicitly forbidden the force of law by the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:4-6 & Deutueronomy 5:8-10

This not only falls into the category of requiring worship of a particular god, it also forbids certain forms of worship altogether. This violates both the establishment and the free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. There's also a logical flaw, just as a side note. If the first generation accepts, and the second generation rejects, what happens to the third generation, which falls into both descendent categories listed?

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not aquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 & Deutueronomy 5:11

I actually prefer this formulation to the more common "thou shalt not take My name in vain," because the more common formulation generally is interpreted as a ban on cursing. In actual fact, I've always read this as a ban on comparisons ("I'm better than God", for example).

In any case, this is a violation of both the free speech and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work-you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 & Deutueronomy 5:12-15

Ignoring the justification of why one should not work on the Sabbath, there is still the problem that labor laws are not based on the Biblical injunction, but rather on the humanitarian arguement that overworking one's employees or one's self is cruel, and the utilitarian argument that it is counterproductive. To the extent that the law fixes a day where one is denied the ability to work altogether, in any form, it would arguably pose a violation of the takings clause, in that one's labor is generally held in the US to be one's property, available for sale. Therefore, to enact such a ban would likely be unconstitutional. (Though it would be constitutional to, for example, ban government offices from being open on certain days, whether or not that accorded with a particular religion's holy days.)

Honor your father and mother, so that your days may be long in the land of the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12 & Deutueronomy 5:16

This is certainly not a universal truth. In my view, a parent has to earn the respect of their children. Even disregarding that, though, I cannot see an argument for this as a basis of our legal tradition. Indeed, there are many situations under the law where such a sentiment is ignored, including the laws on compulsory public schooling, removal of children from an unfit parent, and more.

You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13 & Deutueronomy 5:17

This is certainly a key provision of the law, but not for moral reasons. The government, frankly, has no real interest in the life or death of any particular individual. What the laws against murder seek to do is establish a stable society. If you are under constant threat of harm, you will be constantly armed against it, and the societal disruption of murders is huge when no attempt is made to prevent them. The government has an interest in promoting a stable society; in fact, that's its main purpose.

As a Pagan, the argument I would make from a moral sense is that murder is causing harm, both to the victim and to the family and friends of the victim, and that as such it is immoral. I doubt that Chris would buy this reasoning any more than I would buy the reasoning that "murder is wrong because some god said so."

You shall not commit adultery. Exodus 20:14 & Deutueronomy 5:18

This is obviously not universal. Indeed this commandment is more observed, as it were, in the breach. The government has no interest in the sexual behavior of individuals, as long as that behavior does not cause societal disruption. So, for example, the government outlaws rape and child molestation, but not (generally) incest. And as the recent SCOTUS decision on sodomy makes clear, such laws as were passed based on this reasoning will be struck down. There has to be a clear external effect in order for the government to regulate sexual activity.

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15 & Deutueronomy 5:19

This is encoded in law certainly, but again not because "some god said so." Nor is it encoded on the Pagan view that stealing causes harm to the victim. Rather, the injunction against stealing has to do with the government's duty to protect the property rights of individuals against encroachments. If one can legally steal another's property, than the only way to protect one's property is through armed force, which is destructive to the good order of society.

You shall not bear false whitness [sic] against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16 & Deutueronomy 5:20

This basic principle is encoded both in perjury laws and in libel/slander laws. The reason, though, is not because "some god said so." Rather, the reason is utilitarian: perjury distorts the ability of the legal system to judge wisely, while libel and slander could easily result in duelling (and frequently did, before libel, slander and duelling were all outlawed).

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17 & Deutueronomy 5:21

Certainly, the government lacks any right to ban what someone thinks. Since there is a separate provision against stealing, this provision can only be read as banning the thought itself - the feeling of envy. While this may be an admirable sentiment, though again more often observed in the breach, it is hardly necessary to our system of laws.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will" is from Aleister Crowley.

The formulation of Law (in the moral sense) that I use is "Do what thou wilt, an harm none", which is much more universal, being libertarian rather than hedonistic. Still, even this is not a true universal, given the existence of those who deny free will.

The more common formulation of this is "An it harm none, do what thou wilt." I prefer the way given in the last paragraph, because the two statements basically break down into Love and Truth, and I feel that Truth has more precedence than Love, but Love controls and moderates Truth. One must do what is right - even at a heavy cost - rather than counting the costs before determining what is right to do.

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To Provide for the Common Defense

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Trent Telenko at Winds of Change has a must-read article for those who care about the long-term strategy of the War on Terror.

This ties in with General Franks' testimony to Congress about our length of stay in Iraq, as well as to many different bloggers' comments on the matter, particularly those of Steven Den Beste and Porphyrogenitus. (I will refrain from specific article links here, since I've commented on it before, with links, and since Trent's article has many links to the same or similar sources.)

I think that there are a few things becoming very clear about the long-term War on Terror, and our position now, and I'll try to summarize them all here. First, our current position:


  1. We have enough heavy combat troops in the Regular Army and National Guard to handle any forseeable contingency. Should we be required to fight a war in Korea, we have sufficient forces available to commit to handle that mission, assuming the immediate activation of several National Guard divisions (as these have a six-month training cycle, and many of their most experienced personnel are currently committed to active duty units).
  2. We do not have enough active duty troops to occupy Iraq, fight a war in Korea (or be prepared to do so) and do anything else of consequence.
  3. With the exception of the Poles, British, Australians and possibly the Spanish and Italians, there are no countries with significant forces who are both capable of providing forces for foreign conflict/peacekeeping, and willing to do so in support of the War on Terror.
  4. We cannot as a consequence intervene in Syria/Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, sub-Saharan Africa or Venezuela - any or all of which may require our intervention in the next few years - until and unless we can either pull combat units out of Iraq, or nationalize the Guard heavy divisions.
  5. Our only light/rapidly-deployable forces are the 101AB, 10Mtn, 82AB and 25ID. 101AB and 82AB are committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 10Mtn is committed in Afghanistan, and 25ID is strategic reserve and likely cannot move due to the Korean situation. The Marines are not heavily committed right now, but are really only useful in littoral interventions, rather than for long-term occupation duties. This means that the US does not have sufficient rapidly-deployable forces to intervene should, say, Iran go all to hell with a revolution (or Congo take on dimensions that threaten our security, or Zimbabwe do the same) - without abandoning either Korea or Iraq or undercommitting (fatally?) to both.

Given these facts, I think that the following conclusions are inescapable:


  1. We need at least one more field force the size of the one currently deployed in Iraq, but specifically designed to occupy a nation. In other words, we need 3 to 5 light infantry divisions, with small armored and artillery components for heavy firepower, and with extra contingents of MPs, logisticians, civil affairs troops and the like.
  2. Such a force could likely be raised without a draft, if the political will were available to fund it. That is to say, we would either have to raise taxes again (which I abhor), or cut spending on popular programs (which politicians in general abhor). We must shift to a war footing, which means shifting funding and raising additional troops, or we will be unable to fight at a pace that will defeat our enemies. The President must make this case, and must be willing to take the political risk for it. He should not wait until after the election to do so.
  3. Should we choose to, we could use foreign auxiliaries and US officers to raise such units, in exchange offering the troops American citizenship at the end of their tours of duty. This is likely not politically doable at this time, though it may be in a few years.
  4. Were we to raise occupation troops, and employ them in Iraq, this would free up our combat troops to take on Syria, or be ready for contingency intervention in Iran or elsewhere. Such an expansion of our occupation would, of course, require more occupation troops. At current rates of pay and unemployment, it is likely that we would be unable to raise more than an additional 250000 troops (educated guess, and could be way off) without resorting to foreign auxiliaries or a draft.
  5. We must therefore economize with our forces, and in particular we must avoid pointless interventions (such as Liberia) and pull out of commitments which others could take up (such as Bosnia). This will annoy the Europeans and the American Left. So be it. The Western Europeans have made clear that they have nothing to offer (aside from the nations mentioned above) us except neutrality or vague friendship - and I include Canada in this, sadly. Since we cannot rely on their help, we will have to see to our own needs, and that means leaving them to see to their own needs, and to humanitarian interventions.
  6. We need to organize local militias, in order to provide local self-defense. These militias should have no law-enforcement powers, but purely serve as anti-terror units. During the Washington sniper case, such a militia, with a pair of obviously-armed and alert sentries on each corner, would have proven invaluable. There will be other such cases where this will be needed.
  7. We will have to drop the "war on drugs" in order to free up government resources to fight the real war. It may be possible to do both, but given the budget environment we are now in, it is foolish at least to fight drugs as a Federal matter. Should we maintain prohibition, we need to at least let the States enforce those laws (outside of Customs inspections at the borders).

I don't realistically think that we have the political will to switch to a war footing right now. Absent another major attack, the only way to build that will is for the President to make it the issue he is pursuing. Certainly, short-sighted political opponents will deride him for this, and the Europeans and the press will wail loudly and long, but this is a case that the American public seems to want made to them. It's about time the President does so.


In reality, I don't expect that we will have the political will to go to a true war footing until after the next major terrorist incident on American or European soil.

UPDATE: Fixed the ending. (Thanks to Flit, and to Mog in the comments.) Seems to have been cut off when I saved the post; and I was dealing with kids and didn't notice the error.

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Self-Contradiction

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One of the most-read Leftist bloggers is Hesiod, of Counterspin, who writes in this post:

We are so overextended, militarily, that we can't even afford send more than a few dozen marines to guard the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia.[UPDATE: We have just positioned 4,500 troops near Liberia for possible depolyment]."

Now, I'll be the first to admit that we're overstretched militarily, but it just amuses me to no end to see the difference between the correction and the statement. I'm not ragging on Hesiod here (I might do that later, since I find his arguments on pretty much every subject to be repellant); I was just amused.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

We Support You, Too

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Here is a very moving tribute to the US military.

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July 13, 2003

Health Care

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Kevin Drum (not unexpectedly) comes up with the moderate statist case for socialized medicine, and why businesses should support it. While I agree that businesses have a real incentive in the current regulatory/cost climate to shift this to the government, I believe that there is a much better solution.

First, a digression. It was in WWII that we started, as a nation, subsidizing health insurance. We did this by providing businesses with a tax credit for the money they spent on employee health care. The reason businesses asked for this was that it would allow them to compete better for the scarce worker pool, given that some 28 million young men and women (obviously, mostly men) were under arms, by offering better benefits in lieu of better pay. They were having a hard time offering better pay because the businesses mostly were government contractors and didn't want to raise the price of war goods to the government during wartime. Of course, the reality of this program was to give large subsidies to large companies, which allowed them to outcompete smaller companies, who didn't have a large enough worker pool to get preferred insurance rates, and thus could not compete on a level field with the large companies. (This was not a bug; it was the central point of the program.) Other large companies, of course, had large numbers of workers and thus were able to compete on level terms.

Of course, once such a program is enacted, it takes a national near-catastrophe to undo it, and so this method of paying for health insurance has persisted into the present day. Assuming that it is in the interest of the Federal government to ensure a healthy population (arguable, but I can accept it under some conditions, and certainly on utilitarian grounds), the current system is nearly the worst way to provide it. The only worse way I can think of is socializing the entire system.

Socializing the entire system would be a disaster, because the central point of government-controlled medicine is its scarcity. There is a reason why we get patients in droves from Canada, and in lesser numbers from all over the world: sufficient funding from private sources allows us to provide the best possible healthcare in extreme cases, exceptional healthcare across a broad spectrum of cases, and some health care even to the poorest. (Despite numerous horrifying anecdotes, promulgated third-hand every time the proponents of single-payer care try to impose it on the rest of us, I've yet to see a confirmed story of someone being turned away from at least emergency-room care when they are in need.) Adequate preventive care appears to be available in every population center of note, should people wish to take advantage of it. (Most cities, for example, run hospitals which are compelled to take patients regardless of ability to pay. Also, there are free clinics for many common problems among the poor. The countryside, of course, tends to have fewer such resources.) I personally don't want the government to bring the compassion of the DMV and the financial management of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to focus on giving me health care.

Having companies fund the health care for their workers makes more sense than socialized medicine, but has numerous and large flaws. For example, if you work for a large company, you generally have affordable benefits which work well for you. If you work for a small- to mid-sized company, you have expensive benefits with much less flexibility and coverage. In both cases, you have virtually no real choice in your health plans, as each provider meets basically the same coverage requirements at basically the same costs. If you are out of work, or work for a very small company, or work for a company with high turnover (such as fast food or retail stores), you likely don't get any health insurance coverage until you are a manager. In addition, the costs in meeting these needs for their employees and the costs of regulation imposed by the government and the costs of paperwork imposed on the employees to meet all of those regulatory burdens (and the fiscal burdens and audit requirements of the employer) conspire to make the entire system dreadfully inefficient and a pain in the ass to deal with.

No government involvement in health care, other than perhaps to run free hospitals and clinics for those who need them, might work - it has worked in the past for us - but I suspect that (with current medical care depending on expensive people, equipment, facilities and drugs) such a lack of involvement would result in a brittle system, with good care available to the rich, and virtually nothing available to anyone not in the middle class or higher. Also, this would almost certainly be politically impossible in a country which accepts the proposition that it's OK for government to be involved in virtually everything.

A better system would be to do away entirely with business tax credits for subsidizing employee health insurance, and the provision for allowing a deduction for large health expenses not covered by insurance (I think anything under 15% of your salary is not covered by the current individual deduction), and replace both of them with a direct credit to individuals for all health care costs. In other words, any money I spend on health insurance, medicines or whatever would be credited to me on my taxes. This would allow each employee to spend as much or as little as they choose in order to get coverage tailored to them, and would allow for a far more efficient system in general (for one thing, too much paperwork and I take my business elsewhere).

That system could be improved on in order to fix some of the flaws. The individual tax credit amount would not emphasize good insurance, or cost cutting by the individual, with a straight credit. After all, why not get the absolute best when you're not paying for it at all. This could be fixed by having smaller percentages credited as the costs increase, which would tend to make insurance a better bet for anything other than relatively small amounts (say, under a few thousand dollars), while making insurance affordable by not driving people to use insurance to pay for every single visit to the doctor's office for routine care. The problem of some people being unable to get insurance (because, for example, they have really bad health problems or because they are destitute) could be solved by retaining Medicare/Medicaid and applying them only to the uninsurable (which should, as a side benefit, reduce the costs of those programs).

There are other problems, of course, in any system so large an complex. However, if you accept the premise that the Federal government has an interest in ensuring a healthy population, then I believe that individual tax credits are a far better way to achieve that than corporate tax credits or socialized care.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Listening to NPR

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I listen to NPR's news as often as I get a chance - particularly when I am in the car. This is because they actually have reasonably sober presenters and frequently bring up issues or points I had not previously considered. However, NPR's talk shows are horribly politicized. This morning, I heard something like:

Host: Does the murder of Uday and Qusay Hussein by American troops help or hurt our attempts to rebuild Iraq?
Impressively-Credentialed Raving Moonbat #1: Of course, this will be seen as a "success" for the occupation, but I think that the most casual review of the facts on the ground tells us that this is really a transient and unimportant episode, which will in the end ensure that all Iraqi people want to drink the blood of American soldiers.
ICRM#2: I couldn't agree more. It's amazing to me how the military just refuses to see how this will undermine our troops' already precarious position even worse, by making martyrs of these two relatively-unimportant figures.
ICRM#3: What I don't understand, personally, is how we can even be talking about this, when it's obvious that Resident BUSH LIED about Iraq's motives in a minor note on an addendum to a subsection of a paragraph of his State of the Union speach. This makes me ashamed to be American.
Token Reasonable Person: There seems to be something wrong with my line: there's a low banging constantly in the background. Anyway, I think that this has been a great moment in ...
Host: That was the unending drumbeat of doom. It sets the atmosphere. And that's all the time we have for today. Please tune in tomorrow, when we'll have several more impressively-credentialled raving moonbats on to discuss how tax cuts cause little babies to die abandoned in the street.

I think I'm exaggerating. Or maybe that was the BBC I was listening to.

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Fantasy Policy in a Fantasy World

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Tim Blair is astonished at a Christian school which has a "fantasy policy" (whereby they've banned Harry Potter books from their library). I'm not sure why Tim's astonished, frankly. There are members of every religion and spirituality who live in a world of fantasy, and the last thing that they'd want to do is promote a fantasy alternative to their own.

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Eliminating Spam

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Steven Green points to this John Dvorak article, and asks: "can some of you smart network-type people tell me if any of these ideas [for reducing spam technologically] are doable without needing an entirely new email system and software"?

I'm not going to go into detail on all of Dvorak's proposals, but I will say that he misses the point, for an entirely good reason. The Internet was built as a survivable network, meant in fact to survive nuclear strikes on some of its nodes and still keep going. It was also designed to assume security: all of the users would have to be authenticated by a node before obtaining access to the network, and all of the nodes were trusted. This was an excellent architecture in 1988 (when I first got onto the Internet), because all of the users were accountable for their actions - to their employer, or their university, or their government agency, etc. As a result, abuse was a minor problem (mostly incoming freshmen at colleges) and easily dealt with. But the system dealt with abuse - the human part of the system, not the network part. You could actually be shamed off of the Internet back then. Removing the human enforcer of netiquette and good practice was like giving the government the power to raise almost unlimited revenue from a very small proportion of the population: corruption and abuse exploded. Open source routing - where everyone passed traffic by the shortest route, so that my traffic could go right through IBM's internal network if that was the fastest way to the destination - was the first to go, replaced by a few backbone networks, with the multiply-connected large private networks protected by layers of firewalls and large IT staffs. (This increased the brittleness of the network at the same time that it increased security.)

So how do we fix this? We cannot build a safe, secure and reliable system on top of an inherently insecure, self-regulating and untrustworthy network. We would have to build a new network from the ground up. And to do that, we'd have to scrap everything except the physical layer - the NICs, wires, routers, bridges, modems and so forth would be all that's left. The intelligence of the network would have to change, some of it drastically.

The first problem to solve is design: how do you create a secure, trusted network, which at the same time still allows connections from anywhere to anywhere, using any protocol, as the default? How do you do this without either excluding people or forcing a central controlling agency (brittle, arbitrary and powerhungry as any bureaucracy) or limiting the ability of people to use the network in reasonable ways? How do you manage traffic in such a way that the network can be flexible, without overwhelming small companies who are multiply-connected by passing external traffic through their networks? How do you provide authentication and authorization, in other words, to a global network using only local resources?

It turns out that if you are willing to start with a blank page, it's not that difficult. The major issue to be solved is trust: how do I know whom I'm talking to? Since you don't want a brittle network, that will fall apart when something happens to a small number of nodes, the only trust model that works is to authenticate yourself to some local authentication source. For example, an ISP or a company would provide a directory which lists all of their users, and contains the information necessary to trust that user. Each node, then, has to trust its neighboring nodes. (This is already the case today, in that you cannot establish a physical connection to another node without being their customer or their provider, or entering into an agreement to do so.) Each node would need to cryptologically authenticate itself to its neighbors, and vice versa, and each user would have to authenticate themselves to their node. No node would pass traffic that did not include its partner node's connection key in the message portion of the packet, and no node would alter that information.

On the good side, this lets any traffic be traced back to its source. You cannot fake traffic as being from a node that you are not from, because the network will not pass on the message unless it has authenticated the upstream source - that is, you - and your information is in the packet header. Therefore, you could put preceding node information in the header, but it would be bogus and the trace would effectively stop being verifiable at you, the sender. On the bad side, this would dramatically increase the amount of traffic on the Internet (by increasing the size of any given packet) and would slow down all traffic, bandwidth being equal, because of the overhead of nodes authenticating to each other and the larger byte-count of a given data set.

Let's say, though, that we were to use that or some similar measure of trust to guarantee that the network was trusted. Now, we still have a whole host of problems to solve, because the IP spec would have to be rewritten at a pretty fundamental level. This means that the NICs would need updated firmware, or for cheap cards that have their firmware burned into the hardware, the whole NIC would have to be replaced. Then, you would have to rewrite the network stack to take account of the new protocol. You'd have to rewrite all of the protocols like UDP, FTP, SMTP, POP, NNTP, LDAP, SSH and the like. Some of these would be huge efforts, while others would need few or no changes. The OS network stacks would have to be rewritten for each OS, and some applications would need to be rewritten as well, if they deal with the network information at a low level.

All in all, it would be a huge load of work, and not likely to get done as an organized effort. The better way to do it would be to set up such a network privately, amongst friends as it were, and expand that to their friends, and their friends, and so on, and so on... And if you were to gateway to the global internet, you'd lose a lot of the benefits right there.

So in practical terms, I don't think it's going to happen.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Improving Readability

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Jim Miller has an amusing post on the pomo BS spouted by many academics, in lieu of actually publishing something meaningful. I figured, if I were to translate this, using Babelfish, into Portugese, then back into English, I might get something more meaningful. So here we go:

We can see a socio-sexual parallel between the geography of the wilderness and the topographies of narrative in this genre, which organizes a particular spatial itinerary and social anatomy.

Into Portugese, then back again:
We can see a parallel socio-socio-sexual we enter the geography of the wild region and topographies of the narrative in this genre, that he organizes one itinerary spatial particular and one anatomy social.

Maybe if I try it in Japanese, it will be more useful...

We geography of the wilderness and spatial itinerary of specification and can look at the socio characteristic balance between topography of the story of this genre which organizes social anatomy.

Actually, I'm really not sure which is the original text any more. Oh, well.

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July 12, 2003

Cultural Imperialism

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I thought that "cultural imperialism" had lost its currency long since, but of course the term has been resurrected in the wake of 9/11. I suspect that for most of the people concerned about this, the model that they'd really like to follow is multiculturalism, where each culture is theoretically seen as equally useful and valid. For as many areas as I disagree with the Objectivists, though, they have a point: multiculturalism is just dressed-up, politically-correct racism. Sure, it sounds good, but what the ethos of multiculturalism really boils down to, is devaluing majority cultures as non-authentic, because they are not "pure" in some way. Worse, there is a very exclusionary element, too: we don't want you to be soiled by our culture is not functionally different from we don't want to be soiled by your culture.

People who rail against "cultural imperialism" have missed two very big points: the United States did not steal its culture from anyone, and the people trying to adopt our culture are doing so willingly. Both of these points follow from one apparently not-so-obvious feature of America: our population is drawn from all the peoples of the world. Under the melting pot theory, which was commonly accepted until the late 1970s, the premise was that everyone who comes here could become American. The best parts of each culture - French cooking, English political philosophy, German technical ability, Spanish music - would become part of the American culture, while the worst parts of each - English cooking, French political philosophy, German music and Spanish technical ability - would be left behind. The result was a culture that was universal, because it drew from the best parts of all others, and therefore the American culture also took on a universal appeal.

This is something that for some reason the Leftists simply don't get, and neither do the various reactionaries fighting against the influx of American culture, from France to the Middle East to Africa to Southeast Asia: American culture is the emerging culture of the world, because American culture is the merger of all world cultures. And in fact, this process continues in a feedback loop, despite the attempts of multiculturalists to break it down, with imports from other cultures and with other cultures importing and changing the American culture. This is why in an American arcade you can find a Japanese "dance dance" machine, and in an American bar you can find karaoke, and in Baghdad you can find American movies.

Frankly, I think that this kind of cultural exchange and melding should be celebrated. It may not preserve "pure" cultures, but it certainly makes for a robust and valuable human culture.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Carnival of the Vanities #43

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Welcome to Carnival of the Vanities #43, a place to find posts you would otherwise have missed. Upcoming stops can be found here, with next week's Carnival being hosted by DaGoddess, starting on July 23. Her announcement is here.

This week, we showcase 47 blogs. These are in no particular order.

Kevin Murphy, of funmurphys the blog: The Perception of Racism
Kevin looks at how equal rates of racist acts among differently-sized populations can lead to radically different apparent rates of racism.

Andrew Ian Castel-Dodge, of Sasha and Andrew's Roundtable: Monty Python to the rescue
Andrew watches too much TV - but it's good TV.

Stephanie Medcalf, of One-Sixteenth: Texas passes philosophical exemption for vaccinations
Stephanie looks at Texas' new philosophical exemption to vaccination from an individual-rights perspective.

Pril, of Nth of Pril: Dads
Pril writes about her dad, with a little bitterness and a lot of love.

Bussorah, of Wicked Thoughts: Those Lovely Liberians
Is there anyone in Liberia worth saving?

John Ray, of Dissecting Leftism: Reparations
John Ray notes that his (white) ancestors were brought to a new country on a ship in chains to do forced labor. Should he get reparations, too?

Phil Ingram, of The Flying Chair has four posts about life in Hong Kong
Spot Regina
Population 1, Government 0
Bruce Lee - The Museum that is Yet to Be
Strange News: Apparently Elephants do Forget

Nathan Alexander, of Brain Fertilizer: Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
And there are assault weapons, too. But so what?

Norbizness, of Happy Furry Puppy Story Time: A Primer on Patriotism for Unpatriotic Bastards
"My idea of patriotism is to love the potential of America enough to constantly be bitterly disappointed in its activities, its lunkheaded denizens with the historical memory of a fruit fly, and its mutant, corrosive pop culture that spreads over the globe like a flesh-eating bacteria."

Eva, of Easternblog: Bob's Escape
A very fun tale of Belze Bob's (the rubber Devil Duck) trip to Ottowa. Mooooooooose.

Precision Blogging is a relatively new blog, with an unusual format: just one small post each day.

Chan Eddy, of Weekend Pundit: A Modest Proposal
An, um, interesting proposal for a change to how our Representatives and President are chosen. Wouldn't it be simpler and truer to our Constitutional ideals to just repeal amendments 16 (to reimpose fiscal responsibility on the government) and 17 (to return power to the States where it belongs), and to add a provision such that no House district can consist of more than 150000 people?

Harvey Olson, of Bad Money: What I'd Miss the Most
The picture she hates that I love so much, and why it makes me glad she married me.

Tiger, of Tiger: Raggin' & Rantin': My day, or the good, the bad and the ugly
Reasons to go to the dentist fairly regularly, here presented as a cautionary tale.

Aubrey Turner, of aubreyturner.org: RFID Tags
Aubrey expresses privacy concerns about the use of RFID tags in consumer products.

Val Prieto, of Babalu Blog: Revolutionary Oil Lamps
How do you get thrown in jail in Cuba? Make ordinary oil lamps.

Alex Gray, of _a_l_e_x__g_r_a_y_: Technical Certification - What a Load of Crap
Why technical certifications are a racket. (And speaking as an IT guy, he's right.)

Chad, of yang: Hope
A very human story, with a moral or two. Worth reading. "What I hope I can impart to you with the story of my travels is that America is not merely a place or a collection of places or people. Some would characterize it as an idea, but I think that this is also not entirely accurate. I think America is a collective hope, and that both the soldiers of Fort Lewis and the students of Evergreen [College] are necessary parts of that hope."

Ibyx, of I Know This is Probably Bad for Me: Take Action on Behalf of America's Neediest Children
An impassioned and emotional call for action to save Head Start.

Peter P., of The World According to Pete: NEW SLANG...FOR THE NOT SO HIP
A list of suggestions for new slang terms.

James, of Parkway Rest Stop: The Great One
A paean to Jackie Gleason.

Sean Hackbarth, of The American Mind: Conserving Marriage
A conservative view of the the societal advisability of allowing non-traditional marriages.

Jerome du Bois, of The Tears of Things: Godisms
A kind of mandala on the nature of god. This has the kind of look and feel of a labyrinth, so (as you might guess from the name of my blog and domain, and the artwork therein), this has a particular appeal to me, personally.

Madeleine Begun Kane, of MadKane: Bush Says the Words
A funny parody of I Write the Songs, bashing a bit on President Bush over the controversy with Iraq's possible attempted purchase of yellowcake uranium from Niger.

Meryl Yourish, of yourish.com: Fish or boobs
A post about, uh, wood.

Internet Ronin, of Internet Ronin: College Summer Reading Programs
Internet Ronin suggests that people make too much of the pre-entry summer reading assigned by colleges, along with the excellent point that "If all it takes to convert students to radical thought is to ask them to read a book, democratic capitalism is in very serious trouble and will die out before I do."

Solonor, of Solonor's Ink Well: Telly...
It's amazing what you can sometimes hear yourself say in the middle of a meeting.

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, of Taking Children Seriously: Choosing Creativity - by Kolya Wolf
An article expressing why it is important to allow children to learn without coercion, and comparing children's natural learning with the scientific method.

Setting the World to Rights: Slavery
Did President Bush's comments in Africa on the evil of the American slave trade perpetuate the calumny that slavery was a mostly Western Institution?

The Yeti, of Tales from a Yeti Suit: I am the Greatest
Funny story of a night out, and maitai torture.

Adam H, of A Single Guy in the South: The Great BBQ War and The Great BBQ War Goes On
Crazy Adam H thinks real BBQ is made from pigs. Sadly, his deluded commenters largely seem to agree. Next time you're in the DFW area Adam, look me up, and we'll get some real BBQ. We Texans are kind to foreigners, so you can get cooked pig there, if you're from Tennessee or somewhere like that.

Pietro, of The SmarterCop: A Grave Situation in Florida
Pietro blogs about the potential consequences of throwing out Florida's parental consent law for minors wanting an abortion. While I'm not certain that I entirely agree with him on the consequences, or at least their probability, I do think it's interesting that "here kids can't even get their ears pierced without parental consent and the court is saying they can let a doctor perform invasive surgery without a whisper to their parents."

Kikuchyu, of Kikuchyu News: Recursive Reporting
Weblogs reporting on the media reporting on weblogs...

Christopher Genovese, of Signal + Noise: Essential Merit
Are you good enough? Even if that Nobel Prize hasn't come your way, don't be too quick to judge. Here's why.

Pieter Dorsman, of PeakTalk: Manipulating Surface Level Emotions
Pieter critically examines Canadian opinion surveys about attitudes towards the US, and how they serve their Leftist exponents.

Kevin Aylward, of WizBangBlog: More Thoughts on the Link Cosmos
Kevin has done a real service to bloggers by posting instructions on how to add the Link Cosmos (from Technorati to each post blogged. (In fact, you'll see that posts here have that feature, now.) The "More Thoughts" post makes an eminently reasonable suggestion that high-traffic, commentless sites should include this as a service to their readers.

Da Goddess, of Da Goddess: Oooh! That Woman!
This post had me laughing out loud. My wife has a tendency to get ravaged this way, too...

TimeKeeper, of Horologium: Fun With Lefty Activists
TimeKeeper takes aim at PETA activists, with a question about the hypocrisy of their fundamental beliefs.

The Raving Atheist, of The Raving Atheist: Authority
The Raving Atheist is dismissive of appeals to religious authority as a basis of arguing the rightness of opinions (in the case cited, about the Law of Moses).

Kevin Baker, of Smallest Minority: "A Mistake Free People Get to Make Only Once"
Kevin discusses the actual purpose of the second amendment, and why it is still relevant (and worth the costs) today.

Joe Dougherty, of Attaboy: Next: Chippendale by Night, Minister by Day
Joe looks at the minor bruhaha over SpikeTV's Stripperella, and wonders if it's not just a stunt to get people to watch.

Eric Lindholm, of VikingPundit: Victims of their own Success
Eric discusses how non-profits can lose their way when they carry the argument, and focuses on the NAACP as an example (he gives others as well).

Greyhawk, of The Mudville Gazette: Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy?
Part of an epic series of posts touring the walls that American soldiers guard, viewed from the dirt. Not what you'll see in a newspaper. Read the whole series, starting here.

Sharon, of Brazos Cantina: Hurricane/Tropical Storm Claudette
Notes on Sharon's feelings about Claudette, and links that caught her attention this week.

Dean Esmay, of Dean's World: Random Linguistic Observations
Languages evolve. Grammarians need to relax.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Goal->Strategy->Plan->Task

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.

Steven Den Beste brings up a point that a friend and I have tried to make repeatedly, and to anyone who would listen, over the years: first you develop a goal, then a strategy, then a plan, then you accomplish the tasks.

Your goal states what must happen in order to be successful. For example, the US goal in the war on terror is that no group will exist capable of attacking the United States domestically, or American citizens or interests abroad, using terrorist tactics, and that America will continue to exist as a free nation with a representative government. Should the US do nothing, and this aim come about, then the US has achieved its goal. Should the US perform all kinds of actions, which in the end do not remove terrorism from the pantheon of weapons capable of striking at Americans, we will have lost the war, regardless of all other factors.

Your strategy is one of (usually) many possible ways to achieve the goal. For example, the US could have chosen any of the following strategies (and likely others) to achieve the above goal:


  • kill or capture all known and discoverable terrorists
  • destroy the states and other entities which sponsor terrorist organizations
  • buy off the states and other entities which sponsor terrorist organizations
  • buy off the terrorists themselves
  • convince other countries to pursue one or more of the above strategies
  • do nothing, and hope it will all blow over
  • destroy Al Qaeda, and their Taliban protectors, and then stop and pursue a different strategy (such as doing nothing, or buying off remaining groups and terrorist sponsors)

Each of these strategies has associated costs, monetary and otherwise, risks and benefits, and each has some capability to (at least theoretically) help us attain our goals. In the end, we chose to destroy all the terrorists we could find, and destroy their sponsors, and pressure other countries to help (though we haven't used our ultimate weapon of cutting them off a la Cuba if they don't cooperate to our satisfaction). For the purposes of this discussion, the wisdom of this choice is irrelevant. What is relevant is that this is the strategy the US is pursuing. The strategy will change, though, if it turns out that the strategy is not able to achieve the goals.

A plan is a set of steps which need to be accomplished, complete with the estimates of what resources will be needed to put the plan into operation and how the plan's elements will be sequenced. A plan generally consists of subplans, each a complete plan in and of itself, which are executed sequentially, simultaneously, or if a contingency arises. For example, our subplan for Iraq would have had steps to be executed if Iran intervened, if Syria intervened, if we were stopped short of Baghdad and the like. These are the famous "audibles" that General Franks spoke of. They do not indicate that the plan failed, but that we did a good job of planning for contingencies. (If the plan would have failed, there would have been a stopping point where we consolidated our position and created a new plan. It's obvious when this actually happens.)

Once a strategy has been chosen, there are many ways to make a plan to carry out that strategy. Each of these potential plans are evaluated for their ability to attain the goal, costs and other resource requirements, risks, and side benefits. Our plan in the war on terror over the long haul is not yet clear, but we can see the outlines: first remove Afghanistan as a sanctuary for the Taliban; then remove the terrorist sponsor states, starting with Iraq; then (presumably) remove other potential sanctuaries for terrorism by "fixing" failed states; throughout hunting down known terrorists and strengthening our organizational ability to detect, resist or respond to terrorist attacks. Obviously, contingency plans will be activated as the situation changes (for example, if Korea erupts into war). The plan will change, though, if we learn something which invalidates the plan or if we discover that the plan we have is not a good fit to our strategy.

Tasks are the atomic elements of a plan. They are those things which do not have smaller parts. For example, our Iraq plan had a subplan to get 3ID to Baghdad. This subplan had a plan for taking the bridges over the Euphrates. Each of the subplans consisted of tasks: sieze objectives A, B and C to get to the bridge; then lay down covering fire on any enemy units on the other side of the river; then establish a bridgehead by rushing units across the bridge; then expand the bridgehead; then remove any explosives affixed to the bridge.

The reality is that the President can control the goals; choose the strategies; and influence, approve and reject the plans. The JCS and the SecDef can advise on the goals; develop the strategy options; and select the appropriate plans for the chosen strategy. The operational commanders (like General Franks) can influence the strategies; develop the plans; and influence, approve and reject the subplans. This process continues down to the individual private soldier, who can influence the plans of his NCOs, and carry out the tasks assigned to him.

This is why it is ridiculous for opponents of the President to carp about him "failing" in the war on terror, because something went wrong with one small group of soldiers carrying out the 3rd or 5th or 9th level of subplanning of a particular contingency subplan of the plan for fighting opponent X. It is also why we have a very successful system of winning wars: authority to plan and execute is pushed down as far as possible. This means that the President is responsible for things he cannot control, but at the same time it means that we can react to changing or unanticipated situations without needing one person, or a small group of people, to approve or come up with every action that needs to be taken.

It seems to me that if people want to criticise the President's performance, they should focus on whether or not the goals are appropriate and doable; whether or not the strategy holds the best chance of achieving the goals; and whether or not the President's appointed subordinates are planning and setting policies which will accomplish those strategies. This, on the other hand, is meaningless.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Piling on Stones

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.

On a bright September morning,
my laughter turned to ashes and my dancing turned to flames.
I dug a grave seven stories deep, and I filled it
with blood and bones and memories.

And now I'm piling stones,
from an Afghan Winter and a Baghdad Spring.
I'm piling on stones
with every butcher's now-stilled heart,
every bastard's dying gasp,
every twisted sermon from the now-silent lips of the damned.

I'm piling on stones,
with every tyrant thrown down,
every enemy overcome,
until it stretches a thousand feet
into the sky.

I'm piling on stones for every dream,
and every memory
and every moment of childhood and innocence lost,
for every mother and father never coming home,
for every daughter and son never calling.

I'm piling on stones,
a thousand feet into the sky,
until I can sleep again
in silence.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Give 'em What They Want

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.

Michael Totten has a Tech Central Station column up, in which he asks if it is possible - or at least wise - to allow any measure of victory for the Palestinians. If we give the Palestinians anything that can be interpreted as a victory, doesn't that simply encourage their tactics, particularly suicide bombings?

Ordinarily, I'd say "yes." However, I've been thinking a lot about this problem, and I think that the answer is actually "yes, but..." In order to show why that is, I'll have to start with some axiomatic statements. If you disbelieve any of the following list, then my conclusion will make no sense to you. The axioms of the Israeli-Palestinian situtation are:


  • The aim of the Palestinian and other anti-Israeli terrorsts, and in particular of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Fatah (including the Al Aqsa Brigade) and possibly the Palestinian Authority as a whole, is to defeat Israel. While the Palestinians would like to live in peace, this is less important to them than victory.
  • The Palestianians, at least the very large fraction represented by the groups named above, define victory as minimally including the destruction of Israel, and the creation of a Palestinian state in the entire area encompassed by Israel, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Gaza Strip. Some groups (including Fatah) appear to define victory as the victory of Arab Nationalism, with them at the head of the Arab nation. (In this way, they are not unlike the Ba'athists of Syria and Iraq, Moamar Gadafi, or the former Nasser regime in Egypt. Each of these groups want or wanted the formation of a single Arab nation, under their leadership and control.)
  • The Palestinians don't state this as their goal very often. Instead, they state their goal as a fully autonomous and contiguous Palestinian state in the entire Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with a Palestinian-controlled corridor through Israel, connecting Gaza to the West Bank, and without any remaining Israeli settlements or other presence; the return of refugees from the Israeli War of Independence and their descendents to Israel proper, along with restitution, support from the welfare state, restoration of their former property, and eligibility for Israeli citizenship - including most importantly free movement and voting rights; release of all Palestinians held by Israel on "political" charges (that is to say, for killing or attempting to kill Israelis); the formal establishment of a legal right for Palestinians to work in Israel; and destruction of any physical barriers between Israel and the putative Palestinian state.
  • The Palestinians are incapable of imposing their will on Israel by force of arms, and thus attempt to obtain victory (in the more expansive sense) by baby steps, using international pressure, easily-duped NGOs, and Israeli reluctance to fully engage, in order to make it more expensive to Israel to continue the current situation than it would be to give in to Palestinian demands.
  • The Israelis would love to live in peace, but it is more important to them to simply live.
  • If the Israelis met the demands of the Palestinians, Israel would cease to exist. The "right of return" would ensure that the Jews would become a minority in Israel in very short order, at which point the Palestinians would use their electoral power to take control of, and thus destroy, Israel. (If Israel denied returned Arabs the vote, they would have destroyed themselves as a representative democracy.) The return to 1967 borders would ensure that Israel would be unable to defend against conventional military threats, while also cutting large parts of Jerusalem (including Israel's only international airport) off from Israeli control. The destruction of physical barriers between Israel and the putative Palestine would ensure easy access for terrorists into Israel, and the "right to work" would ensure that Palestinians would not be unusual inside Israel, thus allowing terrorists to work with much less chance of drawing attention to themselves. This is precisely the point, from the Palestinian point of view, to their demands. These are not unintended side-effects.
  • Israel could, of course, defeat the Palestinians utterly and in short order, by the use of overwhelming military might against the Palestinian terrorists wherever and whenever they are found, without regard to Palestinian civilians in the area. This would be met with utter revulsion by Israelis, and any government which attempted it would be unceremoniously booted from office. Further, such actions would almost certainly cause the US to cease open support for Israel, while Europe would almost certainly institute a boycott against Israel similar to what the US maintains against Cuba. This would economically devastate Israel, as well as sapping their morale and weakening them militarily. Thus, Israel will not take this tack.
  • Israel could, of course, defeat the Palestinians by the simple means of annihilating Gaza City, Ramallah, Jenin and one or two other cities with nuclear weapons. This would have effects not dissimilar to the previous option.
  • Israel could, of course, defeat the Palestinians by deporting every single Palestinian from the West Bank, either to the Gaza Strip or simply by forcing them into Jordan. The damage to the Israeli psyche of seeing Israeli troops loading people into boxcars to be shipped out would be incalculable.
  • As a result of all of this, the Israelis do not see a way of defeating the Palestinians, nor of giving in to their demands. Israel's strategy is, therefore, to try to keep the violence in Israel proper at the lowest possible level, for the lowest possible cost, while at the same time trying to find a way to change the situation by getting the Palestinians to, in essence, take somewhat less than their critical demands. In particular, Israel would be willing to grant something akin to the offer made by Ehud Barak - a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with no right of return, borders altered from 1967 to allow Israel a defensible border and control of most of Jerusalem, no guaranteed right of Palestinians to enter Israel, and with security corridors to allow Israel to defend the Jordan River.
  • This strategy depends on the Palestinians being willing to accept less than 100% of what they are asking, and the Palestinians refused an offer to meet 98% of their demands. The situation for the Palestinians is improving, as European money (in particular) flows in, and the US exerts pressure on Israel to bend further and further. The Palestinians, therefore, have no incentive to agree to any concessions at all.

Yes, it would be unwise to give the Palestinians what they want, since that would mean the destruction of Israel in short order, and the use of suicide bombings en masse everywhere Muslims find themselves disputing with a non-Muslim foe in even shorter order. I think that up until this point, at least, Mr. Totten and I would be in agreement.

Where I take issue with Mr. Totten is with his plan. The steps he proposes are "First, defeat terrorism. Second, nurture democracy. Third, negotiate a settlement."

The first phase should be simple. Terrorism must be punished. And anti-terrorism must be encouraged. The Palestinian Authority should be given one last chance to eliminate terror. And if the PA refuses, the U.S. must do the following:
  • Classify the Palestinian Authority as a terrorist organization.
  • Declare "regime change" in the West Bank and Gaza the official United States policy.
  • Support to the hilt every anti-terror operation by Israelis short of war crimes.

The first phase would not be complete until the enemies of peace are defeated, deported, imprisoned, or killed. These include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Yasser Arafat's Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It may also include the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian Authority will be no more hampered by being declared a terrorist organization than have Hamas or the PFLP. Arafat sees himself as a martyr - he wants to be a martyr - and would welcome a US attempt to depose him, which even (perhaps especially) if successful would actually strengthen the hand of the terrorists, by enraging the Palestinian population. The Israelis themselves cannot defeat the Palestinian terrorists, even if supported "to the hilt" by the US, as long as the Palestinians are essentially a subject population. This is because any actions Israel could take that would involve sufficient force to actually defeat the terrorists, would be impossible for the reasons given above.

There is, however, another way. This way would be risky, because it would give the Palestinians a temporary victory, and over the short term would almost certainly make use of the Palestinian suicide bomb tactics more prevalent. This would be to compel a Palestinian state along Israeli-determined lines. Specifically:


  1. Israel should complete the fence between the West Bank and Israel proper, taking a path conducive to easy defense and walling off Jerusalem in such a way that Israel would have definitive control.
  2. Then, Israel could declare that the settlements are not defensible, and tell the settlers that they have to return to Israel proper by a certain date, or the army will no longer be able to offer them protection. On that date, Israel should pull every soldier and policeman out of the territories.
  3. One day later, Israel should declare that Israel has no presence in the Gaza Strip or West Bank, and has no interest in establishing one. Those areas would then be de facto under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. Israel should not recognize a Palestinian state formally, though of course much of the world immediately would, and Palestine would almost certainly be admitted to the UN within days.
  4. Israel should not allow Palestinian workers into Israel in any way regardless of pressure to do so - there are plenty of others willing to work who would come to Israel for the low-wage jobs. Nor should Israel allow Palestinian refugees to return, nor should Israel in any way negotiate about the fences, or a land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, or anything else. Simply declare that Israel has no interest in the West Bank and Gaza, and close the borders.

This would result in a non-viable Palestinian state. Without the job engine of Israel, Palestine is an economic basket case. The split territory, with no land connection between Gaza and the West Bank, would leave Palestine wholly dependent on Jordan for access, and it would be expensive and difficult to travel from one to the other. While the Palestinians would bitch about this, it is also true that the Europeans and even the US would pour in money in an attempt to make the Palestinian state work.

It is almost certain that the Gaza Strip would become, effectively, a separate state (though not in name) under Hamas control, with the West Bank being under PA control. This split leadership, combined with the difficulty of working together practically, would divide the Palestinians into two separate cases from Israel's point of view. It is possible that there could be bloody struggles for control in one or both Palestinian areas. It is certain that there will be massive political infighting to try to get control over all of the money coming in. All of this would tend to distract the Palestinians.

However, it is almost certain that within a short period of time, someone in one of the areas is going to try to attack Israel. Since the option of suicide bombing would be effectively foreclosed by the security fences, the attack would most likely either be by boat infiltration or by rocket/mortar attacks over the walls.

At this point, Israel could make a very effective demonstration. Since Israel no longer has any duty as occupier, the attack would be an act of war. Israel could invade, though doing so would not be very profitable. The better method would be to determine which region the attack came from (if there were any doubt), and take out some high-profile targets in that area. For example, let's say that the attack were by rockets from the area of Beit Hanun. OK, then the Gaza Strip loses the airport and seaport (assuming they'd been built by then) to Israeli bombers. Or if the attack were from the West Bank, the bridges over the River Jordan could be dropped by Israeli bombers. In either case, don't target the other area, because you want to show that peaceful coexistence doesn't invite attacks, while attacks invite immediate and disproportionate retaliation.

If both areas are involved in attacks, or if the strategy of bombing high-profile targets doesn't work, then the Israelis could send in ground troops, surround a Palestinian town, evacuate the residents, and then completely level the town with bulldozers, artillery, bombs or whatever method seemed best. The Israelis would then withdraw, leaving the Palestinians and NGOs to cope with the needs of the resulting homeless. While such an attack would not be politically possible now, since Israelis feel a duty to the Palestinians, this would likely not be the case once Israel was no longer in control of the Palestinians.

Ideally, the situation for Israelis would improve, and the Palestinians would find themselves prospering in exact proportion to how peacefully they acted towards Israel. Almost certainly, though, the Palestinian areas would fall into infighting and ruin, and would strike out at Israel. The ruin, infighting, and Israeli disproportionate retaliation could very well put paid to suicide bombings as a useful tactic in this situation.

In any case, it would be better than the other option for settling the issue, which is a genocidal attack on the Palestinians by Israel.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

HMS Pinafore on Educrats

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 is really funny.

I am the very model of an Education Minister;
My arguments are tortuous, my motivation sinister;
But though my plans are ropy, and my reasons even ropier,
I'm laying the foundations of a socialist utopia.

I'm well aware the arguments the Tories use to blame us is
that schools without competition will foster ignoramuses.
But tolerating independent schools will be hypocrisy
since freedom's incompatible with genuine democracy.

I want to see that everyone learns socialism properly,
and this is only possible inside a state monopoly;
All schools that I don't recognise will therefore be prohibited
and any private tutors will be flogged or even gibbeted.

All middle-class morality I promise to eliminate;
Exams I shall abolish, since they certainly discriminate;
A college with a vacancy selecting its own candidate
will quickly wish it hadn't, when it finds I have disbanded it.

I'll throw away all covenants and charters international
with which I disagree, and which must therefore be irrational;
I short, in all of Europe from the Parthenon to Finisterre
I'll be the most intolerant, intolerable Minister.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

July 11, 2003

Can I Just Have the Wire, Please?

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.

Aubrey's cable modem problems reminded me of something that's bugged me for years. Why is it so difficult to find high-speed Internet connectivity without non-network services?

Internet service breaks down into two parts, network and service. The network piece includes physical connectivity, addressing, routing, and (optionally) naming services (DNS and reverse DNS). The service piece includes email hosting, web hosting, file service hosting (FTP in particular) and so on - in other words, all of the things that you do that need a server (including, say, hosting a weblog). Note that for web browsing, instant messaging and the like, there is no need to have a service - that comes for free with the network, because the applications involved have every piece running on your system.

Now, it's certainly true that most people will need both network and service pieces. Even someone who only wants to surf the web and do email needs a service provider for email. However, there are numerous service providers perfectly willing to provide these services (frequently for free or at very low cost) to anyone able to connect to them.

What I cannot find is an abundance of companies willing to provide a high-speed network connection - and nothing else required - for a reasonable price. If you want a high-speed connection, you can lease a T1 or better (for about $1200 per month with no restrictions, with fractional connections not being much cheaper - and in this case, for example, no faster than a good modem), or you can get some form of DSL or cable modem.

The problem is, getting a good DSL or cable modem connection is still expensive for a home user. I pay about $100 per month for mine, to get a commercial DSL connection at 768K down/384K up with 5 static IP addresses and no other services. The reality of it is, the marginal cost to the provider (Verizon, in my case) is almost certainly less than $5 per month. (I have worked with setting up services for several ISPs, and the large cost is in providing the services, not the network.) I could chop that in half, keep the data rate, add email and web (and, I'm sure, other) services, and lose the static IP addresses. At that point, I'd have to go out an pay additional costs to run this weblog, because Verizon's home user plans don't allow for what it would take to get MT to run, and would have significantly less control over my other server-based services (which I currently provide for myself).

Certainly there is a shortage of IPv4 addresses, but they are available, and the big providers (including mine) have them. Most people would be fine with a pure network connection with dynamic addresses, and a service plan from either their provider (more convenient) or some third party (likely better service and cheaper). For those few who want static addresses, they could be charged more. Still, the connectivity charge in a major city for high-speed service should be on the order to $20 to $30 at most, presuming that the user is getting less than or equal to 16 (raw, 14 usable) addresses, and that includes a hefty profit. Add another $10 to $20 per month for services from a third party (or $30 to $50 per month for services from the line provider) and you'd still be able to save a bundle, while the providers would still make a profit.

So why is it so difficult to get just a high-speed connection, with static addresses and no services? (OK, I suspect that it's an outgrowth of some FCC regulations creating a effective-monopoly or near-monopoly environment, but even with that it seems to me that someone would want to take the money they could get just providing Internet connectivity.)

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Schism

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.

Michael Totten warns the Democrats that classical liberals are leaving the party, due to its stance on national security. There were only two great inflection points in American politics in the 20th century. We are in the middle of another one - the first of the 21st century.

The first truly great shock was the victory of the progressives in the 1930s. Since the 1890s at least, the progressives had been attempting to push the US from being an isolationist republic with a minimal government, mostly accountable to the voters indirectly (the Representative being the only directly-elected office), into an internationalist republic with a comprehensive government, more powerful but more directly accountable to the voters. The Great Depression brought about a realigning election, putting the Democrats solidly in power, at the same time as the country was wallowing in a deep economic crisis. The combination, and a pliant Supreme Court, allowed FDR to push through reforms that effectively gutted the Constitutional limitations on government, and brought about the governmental norms in place today.

The second political shock was the 1960s cultural upheaval. During this time, the Republicans effectively silenced the moderate New England patricians - the Rockefeller Republicans - and replaced them in control of the party with the populist and more conservative Goldwater Republicans. This culminated in the Reagan administration, and had the effect of drawing a sharp boundary between the Democrats and the Republicans, who until that time were more alike than different. This period saw the self-destructive impulses of the Democrats over Viet Nam and McGovern which would likely have resulted in a realignment back to the Republicans, were it not for Watergate. Instead, it was Reagan in 1980, after the failure of the Carter presidency, who made visible the nation's dramatic shift rightwards. Still, there was no realignment, though the parties approached sufficient equality that by the 1990s, the Republicans were able (for the first time in 40+ years) to hold both the House and the Senate.

This shift rightwards was actually stopped by the end of the Cold War. With the apparent threat gone, Americans wanted to turn back to domestic issues, and Americans have seen the Democrats as being most capable of managing the domestic agenda since at least 1932. With the election of Bill Clinton, the US had its first caretaker president since WWI. This combination of circumstances left the US in a 50-50 split, with half of the electorate being concerned with a basket of issues that led them to vote Democrat, and half being concerned with an overlapping, but not identical, basket of issues that led them to vote Republican.

George Bush would most likely have been a caretaker president, had it not been for September 11. That horrible event plunged the US into war, and the parties took two distinctly different approaches to the challenge we face.

The question for America now is, do we conclude that we've won the war, and go back to the status quo ante, except that Afghanistan and Iraq are domestically changed, treating terrorism like a law enforcement issue and focusing our efforts on attempting to create an American version of the European statist model; or do we view terrorism as an existential threat, to be fought for decades (as was the Cold War) both directly and via proxy, to eliminate not just terrorism and state sponsors of terrorism, but also weapons of mass destruction from the hands of non-democratic states, focusing our effort on creating America-lite in the failed nations of the world?

If we conclude that we have won the war on terror, and now need to treat terrorism as a law enforcement issue, then Americans will elect a Democrat to the Presidency, and retract our military greatly. We will intervene abroad on the Clinton model: only where the only possible goal is humanitarian, and there are no direct gains for America in doing so. We will obsess over health care, business regulation, expanding the scope of entitlements, and merging ever closer to the European-derived "civilized international norms."

If we instead conclude that the terrorist threat is existential, and we are willing to take decades to wipe it out, in the process raising up failed states into free, self-governing and non-threatening republics, then Americans will elect a Republican to the Presidency, and expand our military greatly. We will intervene abroad where failed states exist, solely to reform those states into viable entities, if necessary redrawing borders in the process (particularly in Africa). We will ignore the UN, and possibly even withdraw from it. Our international relations will de-emphasize the socialist-leaning European states, such as France and Germany, in favor of the eastern European states, the Anglosphere and nations like Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan and Israel. We will work tirelessly to bring Liberty and self-determination to the 3rd world, and in the end we will be engaged in this for a generation.

I think that the inflection point happened between 9/11 and the end of the war in Iraq, and we are now making up our minds. The next election will show us which way the public has decided.

If the public decides to re-elect President Bush, it is most likely true that the Senate and House will swing more Republican, and that the Democratic party will fracture under the strain. I think that the paroxism of the Left will be such that its thrashing will throw off the classical liberals like Armed Liberal and Michael Totten, who didn't move with the "Reagan Democrats" or in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

WARNING: WILD SPECULATION FOLLOWS

The Joe Liebermans and Dick Gephardts of the Democratic party might similarly find themselves out in the cold. Should that happen, I suspect that the Democratic party will split permanently, much like the Whigs did in the 1840s or 1850s. The Left will retain the Democratic party name, while the centrists will form a new party. There would then be a long period of realignment, during which the new part and the Republicans would be shifting members across the lines, with the remainder of the Democratic party consituting about a third of the electorate. It's possible we could stabilize on a three-party state, with two parties (Republicans and new party) fighting the war on terror, while two parties (the Democrats and the new party) determine the domestic agenda. This would put the new party into the kingmaker position, and frankly I wouldn't be unhappy with that.

UPDATE: Porphyrogenitus comments: "I think that it will stabilize at two parties; the outcome will be either an unreformed Democratic Party, a renewed (or remade) one, or a new Party." That may be so. The US has certainly tended towards two-party politics, although a lot of that since the 1890s or so has to do with the kind of regulations adopted by the States (and since Watergate by the Federal government) to make it difficult for third parties to compete fairly. For example, the Democrats and Republicans do not have to get candidates onto the ballot: it's automatic. For third-party candidates, some states (NY is a case in point) are nearly impossible. Campaign finance legislation is similarly weighted to favor large and established parties.

That said, I don't think that there's anything sacred about the two-party system, and a stable three-party arrangement could exist, at least for several election cycles, if it built up from the ground (instead of starting with the Presidency) and had a substantial base to start with. We do not suffer from the parliamentary weakness of requiring a majority coalition at all times. We simply pass bills by majority, and it does not matter where those votes come from. Congress won't fall, nor will the President, on a failure to get the majority party to maintain party discipline. As a result, it is possible for several parties to exist simultaneously in the Congress without causing a crisis. (In fact, I'd bet that we could sustain as many as a half-dozen parties without causing a crisis. After that, there would be a lot of time taken up by partisan dealmaking that would make taking action difficult - that may be a feature.)

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

A Future of Prolonged Hardship and Suffering

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.

Here is an explanation, in better words than I could have chosen, for why Kos and Hesiod and the like disgust me:

Similarly today, with all those who seem so to relish every new difficulty, every set-back for US forces: what they align themselves with is a future of prolonged hardship and suffering for the Iraqi people, whether via an actual rather than imagined quagmire, a ruinous civil war, or the return (out of either) of some new and ghastly political tyranny; rather than a rapid stabilization and democratization of the country, promising its inhabitants an early prospect of national normalization. That is caring more to have been right than for a decent outcome for the people of this long unfortunate country.

Frankly, I'd be less annoyed with the Left if their morality and their positions were more closely aligned.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Appreciating Art

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.

Michael Totten has a post about why "proud Philistines" (John Derbyshire's criticism of Republicans who don't like high art) don't like high art: it's not about the "philistines" but about the pretentious Marxists teaching it.

I love art, of many kinds. I like certain paintings, certain ballets, certain music, certain statuary and so on. The problem is, I don't like pretentious assholes who see a uniform blue canvas lecturing me about the deep angst the artist is expressing. I like Mondrian's blocky paintings for what they are - interesting geometrical expressions. I don't think Mondrian's paintings express the alienation of the suburbs and the opression of minorities by the patriarchy. Yes, I have heard them described that way. I could pull examples of that kind of pretension from any field of art. (Especially music, actually, even more so than painting.)

I think that the reason that some people, obviously including Derbyshire, think that "philistines" (by which they actually mean "Republicans" (by which they actually mean any non-Leftists)) don't like art, is because we don't like them, and don't go along with the language that hides what shallow and unthinking ideologues they really are.

Not that I'm bitter.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

July 10, 2003

The Foundations of Free Societies

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.

Tarek Heggy, guest blogging at Winds of Change, discusses how the ballot box is not the most important component of democracy; rather, the institutions underlying a free society are necessary for representative government to succeed. This is something I've written about before in regards to Iraq, and it is a pet peeve of mine when people trumpet elections as being the sum total of freedom.

Heggy lists the following conditions as reforms necessary to create a free society:

  • Laying down the policies and creating the mechanisms and organizations required for the conduct of democratic political action in an institutionalized fashion.
  • Creating the ideal framework for the growth of civil society institutions, which are the first line of defense against fascist forces that claim to be the holders of absolute truth.
  • Proceeding on the path of economic reform while never wavering from the ultimate objective of reducing the role of the State in economic life from a patriarchal role to a less intrusive role, albeit one that is decisive when it comes to laying down economic policies and guaranteeing their observance.
  • Reforming educational institutions, which have sunk to abysmal standards in most countries today, producing graduates who are totally unfit to cope with the challenges of contemporary life. Our educational institutions are among the worst, and the only voices raised in their defense belong to those who contributed to their decline.
  • Reforming media institutions which, in much of the Third World, continue to apply Goebbels' understanding of their role as propaganda machines serving the government, and turning them into institutions which set themselves the contemporary goal of serving the consumer.

I'd like to restate these prerequisites/reforms, and maybe add a few, as follows:
  • Recognized and protected private property rights - the ability of anyone to obtain, have and use real property, and to sell or give that property without restriction; the ability to defend that property from attempts to take it by force.
  • Free economy - the ability to form businesses, employ and terminate the employment of workers, and keep the profits (if any) of those businesses; to loan and be loaned money or other resources (including rights to property owned by another); to work for onesself or for another, at whatever trade or profession one desires. This cannot exist without recognized and protected private property rights, and is an inevitable outgrowth of those rights. (If a free economy doesn't exist, you cannot sell your property freely, for example.)
  • Personal security - being free of the threat of sudden death, loss of property, or loss of liberty (whether from government, or from individuals or organizations) without yourself acting to trigger such a threat (by, for example, trying to rob someone). This includes the ability to defend one's security by force of arms.
  • Personal liberty - the ability to do what one wishes, so long as it does not interfere with the property, life or liberty of someone else. This includes the freedoms of speech and religion, as well as the freedom to defend one's liberty by force of arms.

In other words, we are back to Adam Smith's "life, liberty and property" as the underpinnings of a free society. Representative government cannot long exist without these underpinnings. These underpinnings cannot be maintained without the ability to defend them from threats - whether by a constabulary, a militia or individual action.

Then, after these prerequisites are established, is the time to have national elections. (Local elections would almost certainly come about during the establishment of the prerequisites, as a way of settling purely local disputes.) It is this that we need to undertake in Iraq - and that fortunately we seem to be undertaking in Iraq. It is this process that needs to be undertaken - quickly or slowly - in any society that wants to be free.

These are not, of course, guaratees of a long-maintained free society. Such a society must have certain characteristics of government (including respect for and observance of the rule of law, regular and regulated entry to and leaving from office, separation of powers within any given layer of government past the county level, franchise limited to those who have an interest in the future of the state, apportionment of power and responsibility to distinct interest groups (doesn't necessarily need to be regional, as the United States is), and decreasing power with increasing scope (so that the local government - the easiest to escape - would have the most power over individuals, while the national government - the most difficult to escape - would have virtually no power over individuals.) However, without the pre-requisites, the form of government is meaningless, because it will not last past the first strongman with determination and followers.

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Feels Good to Me

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Something Porphyrogenitus said got me thinking:

I used to encourage every one of my friends to go out and vote, regardless of whether they were informed on the issues or not (indeed, when some would reply to the effect that they didn't feel they knew enough about things to vote, I'd prod them to do it anyhow, exercise their democratic right and duty. This was back when I was a Democrat. I wonder if there's any connection between that and the stance I took then).

I suspect that there is a default "stupid" position for any given question - that is to say, most unthinking people will by and large make the same choice. There seems to be a huge imperative for people not to think through their decisions, but to take them on faith, based on what feels right to them. For example, in the US, there are two positions you can take on religion that will result in fairly widespread affirmation, and which require no thought: Christianity or atheism. In addition, for the rebellious who need negative affirmation (that is to say, what you are doing is taboo, so it must be the right thing to do), there's the Pagans.

In the same way, there is a huge societal disaffirmation of conservatives in general and Republicans in particular, while being a Democrat carries an immediate affirmation from the media in particular. For those needing the negative affirmation, there are the Greens. For those who have chosen the more right-wing Christian sects, and so are not ideologically disposed to the Left or to individual responsibility, there are plenty of Idiotarians on the far right as well.

Note that intelligent people can pick the stupid default for intelligent reasons. There are intelligent and wise Democrats, Christians and Pagans, for example. I'm not yet convinced that there are wise Greens. There are also idiots who choose outside the normal groups. There are plenty of non-extremist Republicans who are not that bright and are quite foolish, for example. Ann Coulter, for example, is deeply intelligent and either quite the fool, or at least she plays one in public.

I think that the basis of decision-making for these people is: do what feels right, while taking no personal responsibility. This makes it easy to be a Democrat (we want to help people, but we're victims and so we can't: you help us all) or a Christian (I'm trying to do good, but we're all sinners by birth so you can't expect me to always do right) or a radical Leftist (everyone should be equal, so we have to punish the people who are smarter, or richer, or prettier, or healthier). It's no wonder that the Democrats, in general, want as many people as possible to vote, while the Republicans, in general, don't.

I may be wrong of course, but that explanation feels good to me.

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Liberian History

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The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting look at Liberia's history. In outline: freed American slaves set up a country stating the best parts of America's legacy, implemented the worst parts of America's legacy, then mixed in the disaster that is most of West Africa to create an appalling result. Bussora is right: is there anyone there worth saving?

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Reconstruction

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If you think that the reconstruction of Iraq is going badly, and that the US isn't getting anything accomplished, you should pay attention to this. The reality is that we are rebuilding a country from scratch, and we have to be concerned not just about governning institutions, but about such daily activities as making sure that the streets are clear of trash. It will take a long time to build up a functioning society, but it seems like we're on a good track to do that.

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Clash of Cultures

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It annoys me to realize that Osama bin Laden is right in one way: this war is a culture clash between fundamentalist Islam (militant Islamism, for lack of a better term) and the Enlightenment West. Both civilizations will come out of the clash changed, and one will come out overthrown and replaced with a culture more like that of their foes. The possibility of militant Islamism winning is terrible to contemplate, and so I focus on how the West can defeat the Islamists, preserving our Liberal, Enlightenment culture and reforming their repressive and backwards-focused culture.

I hope that Tarek Heggy's ideas of Muslim alternatives to Islamic fundamentalism are being voiced in the Middle East, as well as in the West. I hope that we have the wisdom to recognize those voices, and to support them where we find them.

I think that it's inevitable that Islamic societies will have to undergo a reformation, and it's good to know that there are Islamic traditions which would facilitate this - and even the more radical reform of an Islamic Enlightenment. The alternative is terrible to contemplate, because the US is not going to leave the Arabs alone, sitting on a sea of oil (and thus cash), with the will to acquire nuclear weapons, and with an inimical hatred of Outsiders (including, of course, us).

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IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

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The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies: For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
         Georgia:
         ���Button Gwinnett
         ���Lyman Hall
         ���George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
���William Hooper
���Joseph Hewes
���John Penn
South Carolina:
���Edward Rutledge
���Thomas Heyward, Jr.
���Thomas Lynch, Jr.
���Arthur Middleton

Column 3
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Pennsylvania:
���Robert Morris
���Benjamin Rush
���Benjamin Franklin
���John Morton
���George Clymer
���James Smith
���George Taylor
���James Wilson
���George Ross
Delaware:
���Caesar Rodney
���George Read
���Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
���William Floyd
���Philip Livingston
���Francis Lewis
���Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
���Richard Stockton
���John Witherspoon
���Francis Hopkinson
���John Hart
���Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
���Josiah Bartlett
���William Whipple
Massachusetts:
���Samuel Adams
���John Adams
���Robert Treat Paine
���Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
���Stephen Hopkins
���William Ellery
Connecticut:
���Roger Sherman
���Samuel Huntington
���William Williams
���Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
���Matthew Thornton

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July 9, 2003

Writing With Crayons

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Via Smallest Minority, I am happy to share with you the funniest legal opinion I've ever read. The judge accuses both counsels of writing in crayon on the back of gravy stained paper place mats, and at one point advises Plaintiff's counsel not to run with sharp objects.

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Beating up on Michael Kinsley

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The Eleven Day Empire is beating up a bit on Michael Kinsley:


He's, unsuprisingly, pushing the "Bush lied! BUSH LIED!" storyline.

I've only got two comments. First of all, he ought to have skipped the Groucho Marx quote:

The Bush administration borrows from Groucho: "Who are you going to believe -- us or your own two eyes?"

It's overused already - find something a bit more original, Mikey...it makes you sound like part of a mindless, thoughtless herd, all parroting one another without regard to what actually...oh, right. I forgot who I was talking about.

As Glenn would say: Heh!

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Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid

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OK, we're in the middle of a war on terror, which started when four planes were hijacked, and three of them rammed into buildings. The government is warning that the group who hijacked all of those planes is going to try it again. We're having problems retaining air marshals, because of the onerous flight schedules. What shall we do? How about we reduce the number of air marshals, whose job is to prevent airliners from being hijacked? Only the government could be this stupid. (hat tip: Winds of Change)

UPDATE (8/1): Laughingwolf comments on airline security as well. (hat tip: Winds of Change)

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An Apology for Jewish Terror

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Sort of, from Ipse Dixit. Quoted here in its entirety:

Following the latest atrocity in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Powell urged the Palestinians to issue some form of denunciation.
Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas complained that only the Palestinian side is ever required to denounce terror.

Predictably, the Palestinian denunciation later mumbles that they "deplore the murder of civilians on both sides."

Perhaps the Palestinians have a point, and so to set the record straight, I do hereby denounce the following in the name of the Jewish People:

1. All Jewish suicide bombers who have ever acted against Arabs.

2. All Arab buses blown up by Jews.

3. All Arab pizza parlors, malls, discotheques and restaurants destroyed by Jewish terrorists.

4. All airplanes hijacked by Jews since 1903.

5. All Ramadan feasts targeted by Jewish bombs.

6. All Arabs lynched in Israeli cities; all Arab Olympic athletes murdered by Jews; all Arab embassies bombed by Jews.

7. All mosques, cemeteries and religious schools fire bombed or desecrated by Jews in North Africa, France, Belgium, Germany, England or any other country.

8. The destruction of American military, governmental and civilian institutions in Kenya, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - along with the murder of U.S. Marines and diplomatic personnel.

9. All Jewish school books which claim that Arabs poison wells, use Christian blood to bake pita, control world finance, and murdered Jesus; or that Arab elders meet secretly to plot a world takeover.

10. And I am particularly ashamed at the way my fellow Jews attacked the World Trade Center, Pentagon and civilian aircraft on September 11th, and danced in the streets to celebrate the act.


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Peace, Love and Understanding

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There is a discussion going on at Winds of War, as to whether or not the President should lay out the strategies he is pursuing in the war on terror. Sadly, this is starting to degenerate into a culture clash. I hope I can clear the air a little:

Trent, you are being overwrought. It is true that the President cannot lay out our strategy (as opposed to doctrine, which he has done here). It is equally true that many Leftists want the President to lay out his intentions so that they can attack those intentions for partisan gain. It is also true that A.L., Michael Totten and the like are confronting the Leftists, and you do them a disservice (and drive them more towards the Leftists) by talking like Ann Coulter. The disloyal opposition (yes, there is one) is a very small part of the Democratic party, and is confined almost exclusively to their activists and a few of their political leaders. Some subtlety would be helpful.

A.L., you are missing a major point: the President can lay out his doctrine, and has done so here. He cannot lay out the strategies in play right now, for reasons Steven Den Beste tackles here. To lay out the strategy would be to either doom it, or at least to make it more difficult and costly to achieve. I would like for the other aspirants to lay out their doctrines, but as far as I can tell, only the Libertarians have done so (and I cannot accept disengagement and isolationism).

Gabriel, you too are missing a point: those people who are willing to let America take damage if, in the process, it damages the Republicans to their own gain, are disloyal opposition, and some of them might be traitors. (For example, people like Rachel Corrie and the rest of the ISM crowd actively aid and abet the terrorists.) It is reasonable for Trent to point this out, and it shouldn't take all of the air out of the conversation when he does so (though he tends to be a bit strident rhetorically). Most of the people in this vein are on the Democratic side of the ledger, and reasonable Liberals need to call them out, and distance themselves from the radicals. Some of the people in this vein are on the radical Right, and resonable Conservatives need to call them out, and distance themselves from the radicals.

It would be tragic if the centrists fought amongst themselves because of the positioning of an arbitrary line, and in the process let the radicals take control of the agenda. Debate is crucial, but it needs to be civil in order to be useful. This debate hasn't spiralled out of control, but I'm worried that it will as the political battles unfold over the next year.

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July 8, 2003

A Geneology of Anti-Americanism

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This article, by James Caesar in the American Prospect (hat tip: Grim's Hall), discusses the history of Anti-American thought among Western intellectuals (particularly in Europe). Here's the conclusion:

Not only does anti-Americanism make rational discussion impossible, it threatens the idea of a community of interests between Europe and America. Indeed, it threatens the idea of the West itself. According to the most developed views of anti-Americanism, there is no community of interests between the two sides of the Atlantic because America is a different and alien place. To "prove" this point without using such obvious, value-laden terms as "degeneracy" or the "site of catastrophe," proponents invest differences that exist between Europe and America with a level of significance all out of proportion with their real weight. True, Europeans spend more on the welfare state than do Americans, and Europeans have eliminated capital punishment while many American states still employ it. But to listen to the way in which these facts are discussed, one would think that they add up to different civilizations. This kind of analysis goes so far as to place in question even the commonality of democracy. Since democracy is now unquestionably regarded as a good thing - never mind, of course, that such an attachment to democracy arguably constitutes the most fundamental instance of Americanization - America cannot be a real democracy. And so it is said that American capitalism makes a mockery of the idea of equality, or that low rates of voting participation disqualify America from being in the camp of democratic states.

Hardly any reasonable person today would dismiss the seriousness of many of the challenges that have been raised against "modernity." Nor would any reasonable person deny that America, as one of the most modern and the most powerful of nations, has been the effective source of many of the trends of modernity, which therefore inevitably take on an American cast. But it is possible to acknowledge all of this without identifying modernity with a single people or place, as if the problems of modernity were purely American in origin or as if only Europeans, and not Americans, have been struggling with the question of how to deal with them. Anti-Americanism has become the lazy person's way of treating these issues. It allows those using this label to avoid confronting some of the hard questions that their own analysis demands be asked. To provide just one striking example, America is regularly criticized for being too modern (it has, for example, developed "fast food"), except when it is criticized for not being modern enough (a large portion of the population is still religious).

A genuine dialogue between America and Europe will become possible only when Europeans start the long and arduous process of freeing themselves from the grip of anti-Americanism - a process, fortunately, that several courageous European intellectuals have already launched. But it is also important for Americans not to fall into the error of using anti-Americanism as an excuse to ignore all criticisms made of their country. This temptation is to be found far more among conservative intellectuals than among liberals, who have traditionally paid great respect to the arguments of anti-American thinkers. Much recent conservative commentary has been too quick to dismiss challenges to current American strategic thinking and immediately to attribute them, without sufficient analysis, to the worst elements found in the historical sack of anti-Americanism, from anti-technologism to anti-Semitism. It would be more than ironic - it would be tragic -- if in combating anti-Americanism, we were to embrace an ideology of anti-Europeanism.

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The Burdens of Citizenship

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Eugene Volokh points out (hat tip: InstaPundit) an extraordinary example of judicial incompetence: the Nevada Supreme Court has ordered the Nevada Legislature to ignore an inconvenient provision in the State's Constitution! While Professor Volokh brings up both impeachment and recall as possible remedies, he leaves unsaid that there are duties imposed upon citizens which come into play here:

It is the duty of the Nevada Legislature to ignore the Court's decision.
If the Legislature does not do so, it is the duty of the people to not pay the increased taxes that would result.
It is the duty of the prosecutors to not file charges against people who do not pay such taxes (assuming they pay their previous taxes.)
It is the duty of the police to not arrest people charged on such an account.
It is the duty of the duty of jurists not to convict a person so tried.

It is, in short, the duty of every citizen to respect and uphold both the national and their State's Constitution, and to not do so would be tragic, in that it would set the precedent (or reenforce the perception) that the citizens are not particularly concerned about their Constitutional rights.

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Can We Force a State out of the Union?

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So, I was reading this (hat tip: Accidental Jedi), which of course happened in California, and it occurs to me that while we cannot carve up a State without its consent (article IV), and a State cannot secede (the Civil War settled that question), I don't see any reason why the rest of the States could not just get together (in the form of the Senate and the House voting) and boot California right out of the Union. Other than good harbors, and the grousing of the people who'd move back to the US and miss the climate, what exactly would we be losing?

Could we trade California to Canada for the western provinces? Canada's population and economy would go up, and the US and western Canada would end up being a better match for each other than we are for California and eastern Canada.

Just thinkin'...

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Bush Lied? Uh, No.

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Steven Den Beste has posted a quite detailed exposition of America's rationale and position in the war on terror, including a listing of root causes, the justifications for war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and some notes on the long-term direction we're going in. His conclusion: Bush can't reasonably be said to have lied; the statement in question from the SOTU is pretty far down on the list of relevant justifications for the war; and the Democrats are just marginalizing themselves by harping on what everyone knows is a really minor nit, to the point of calling for impeachment.

I would have just said, "No, Hesiod, you delusional partisan jerk, President Bush didn't lie." But that's just me.

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I'll Take 100 Lots on a Suicide Bombing at a Mall

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This is a brilliant idea. Futures markets are incredibly efficient ways of predicting events that a lot of people have small knowledge of. Terrorism certainly fits into that category. While I wouldn't rely on this alone, it certainly would be a good bit of information to use as a guide for targetting other resources. Of course, the usual small-minded suspects are wailing and gnashing teeth at the idea that the Pentagon might be trying something innovative, but that is to be expected, and is criticism easily dismissed.

UPDATE: And like far too many ideas, and as in far too many other cases, the whiff of criticism has caused this program to be scrapped. Way to show some balls, Poindexter.

On another note, what is to prevent private citizens from setting up such a market? Charge a transaction fee of a few cents per contract dollar, and the enterprise would most likely be profitable. In addition, it would certainly be useful to the government, since the market is by its nature open information. Setting up the financial background for this shouldn't be terribly difficult or expensive. Man, yet another idea I'd take up if I had more time to work on it. Oh, well, maybe someone else will.

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July 1, 2003

The Axioms of Liberty

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.

The first nation to come to grips with personal freedom was England. Over a period of several hundred years, the institutions necessary to allow ordinary individuals to attain wealth and some measure of independence came into being, in a bitterly-contested battle between the supporters of the monarcy, and the various populist factions which arose over time. But England most emphatically did not want to extend these rights to overseas colonies. The pressures that this put on the American colonies, where the colonists were after all British citizens and subjects, led to the Declaration of Independence, which was perhaps the most elegant statement of Liberty ever conceived:

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.

Today, throughout the world, these very basic freedoms are under threat even in nations nominally free. The progressive, fascist, socialist and communist movements which rose in America and Europe in the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries, have undoubtedly brought advances in our knowledge and experience; they have also in many ways weakened the fundamental commitment to Liberty of these nations. In the US, it is in some places not legal to defend one's own life, or the life of one's family. In England and Australia and across Europe, the situation is more dire than that. In many countries in Europe, the ability to express an opinion is hindered by hate crimes laws, so that putting up a poster can get you banned from the EU.

I assert that it is self-evidently true, that each person is sovereign unto themselves, and possessed of innumerable rights, including

To live without fear of arbitrary violence, or arbitrary confinement, or loss of liberty, or of involuntary servitude;

To be free of compulsion, except to adhere to a contract freely agreed, or as adjudged by a court under due process of law;

To live in whatever manner they choose, so long as in doing so they do not infringe on another's right to do the same;

To accumulate property and wealth, and to use that property and wealth in whatever manner they desire, so long as such use does not foreclose others the use of their own property; and to sell, lease, rent or transfer that property without restriction;

To associate with other people or groups of their choice, in the manner of their choosing, and to peaceably assemble in the place and at the time of their choosing;

To observe their religious beliefs as they choose;

To hold and express opinions, to state facts, to express judgements and to disseminate these in any manner they desire;

To participate in the operation of their government, by being eligible for election to office, and to vote at election regardless of personal circumstance, provided that they have obtained a sufficient age as determined by law;

To raise their children according to the dictates of their conscience;

To be free from the threat of searches and seizures, except upon presentation of a warrant, drawn by a court of law upon the affirmation of their involvement in the commission of a crime;

To be free from the threat of repeated prosecution for the same event;

To be free from the threat of torture, or of any other cruel or unusual treatment, either under questioning, or for punishment, or for any other purpose;

To be represented at any trial to which they should be subjected; to confront their accusers; to bring forth evidence in their favor; to be tried in an area local to them by a jury of their peers; to be free of the compulsion to testify against themselves; to be tried within a short time of accusation; to be free of the threat of accusation for any event which happened in the distant past, and against which it is therefore difficult to defend;

To defend their person, property and rights by any necessary means, and to that end to be able to keep and bear arms sufficient to the purpose.


The only legitimate purpose of government is to secure those rights and liberties. To do so, a government must

Draw its powers from the consent of the governed;

Provide for, and itself be subject to, the rule of law;

Ensure that each person is equally subject to, and equally protected by, the law, and no person receive any special or particular benefits or penalties on account of their position, notoriety, race, gender, place of origin, or age, except that an age of majority may be fixed by law, and used for such purposes as the law may allow;

Provide for the selection of its officers, and of the representatives of its citizens, by free and fair election;

Restrict the exercise of its powers in proportion to the number of people over which that power has an effect, and in particular to exercise its powers as locally as possible;

Be so constituted that its officers serve at the pleasure of the people, or of their representatives, subject to recall or impeachment of any officer, and repeal or amendment of any law by referendum;

Implement any source of revenue, or raise any rate of revenue, without the consent of the people, or the consent of the overwhelming majority of the people's representatives;

Vest control of the military in the hands of the civil authority, and prohibit the military from enforcing domestic law, except on the explicit request of the people's representatives;

Provide that at any level, the power to make laws, to enforce them, and to adjudicate them shall be held by different bodies;

Prohibit the accumulation of power in the hands of certain individuals, by limiting the amount of time during which a person may consecutively serve as a civil officer of government or as a representative of the people;

Vest all power of the making of laws, regulations and statutes in those bodies which have legislative power, such that no person is bound by a law unless it is consented to by a legislature in which they are represented;

Provide no mechanism for the suspension of laws, without the consent of the representatives, or of the people, and in all ways resist such suspensions;

Prohibit any law, regulation or act from applying only to a named person, or to a group so limited as to contain only one person;

Prohibit any law from having retroactive effect;

Reserve all rights and powers to the people, except those delegated by the people to the government by constitution, law, or by referendum;

Provide methods for its citizens to alter, reform or abolish the government peacefully, should the government infringe upon the rights of the people, or be unable to provide for the peace and ability to seek happiness of the people.

Any government must be judged according to its adherence to these principles, and its ability to protect and record of protecting these rights and freedoms.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Nobody Outcrazies Kucinich

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.

Bob Graham is really trying, but nobody outcrazies Kucinich:

He called for cutting the Pentagon's budget by $60 billion to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and canceling President Bush's $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in favor of universal college education. Kucinich said universal health care can be achieved with a system administered by the federal government.

Does anyone besides me remember the Saturday Night Live sketch "What were you Thinking?" All we have to do is change a few lines, make it Kucinich instead of Mondale, and we're done. It'd be worth seeing Kucinich nominated just for that skit.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack