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August 24, 2003

Why I'm Not Republican - or a Democrat

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Most people just assume I am a Republican. They are wrong. Here is an example of why: the Republicans are once again proposing to ban gay marriage - by Constitutional amendment. (hat tip: Michael Totten)

There are three problems with this:

  1. What business does the Federal government have determining what constitutes a marriage?
  2. Presuming the Federal government had some power over the definition of marriage, why on Earth do they want to put something that minor and piddling in the Constitution?
  3. How much damage is done to the fabric of the nation by undermining equal treatment under the law?

The fundamental, most basic and deepest underpinning of America is simply this: all citizens are equal before the law. This is the key feature that enables "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to have meaning; for how is life protected, when it can be arbitrarily taken away? What does liberty mean when it is contingent on your behavior fitting certain norms defined by others? How can one even attempt to find their own path to happiness, when they can be arbitrarily deprived of whatever would make them happy?

Without the equal protection of the law, no other right can last very long - not even the most basic and self-evident truths hold, when the government gets to define who is able to enjoy these rights, and who is not, based not on their individual actions, but on some professed belief or membership in some group. This was the singular blemish on the Constitution in the first place: certain groups (Negros and Indians) were defined as unprotected by the law, because of their racial grouping. We fought a war, and slaughtered thousands of our fellow citizens, to get rid of that blemish.

Now we are attempting to add that blemish back in, by Constitutional amendment and Supreme Court decree: it's OK for the government to judge on the basis of race, or on the basis of choice of life partner. Bullshit! It is not OK; it is patently un-American.

Let me be clear. If a person wants not to have a gay person in their house, they are entitled to exclude them. If a private college wants to allow only white students, they are entitled to do so. If the Congressional Republicans want to pass a Constitutional amendment saying that gays cannot choose their life partner, the Congressional Republicans can take a flying leap (as well as a refresher course in equal protection). If the Supreme Court wants to declare that some races are more equal than other, it can also take a flying leap (and the same refresher course).

And isn't it interesting that these two issues came up so close together? Because the would-be dictators on the Right and the would-be dictators on the Left each find equal-protection religion when it comes to the other side's issue. I'm sure that the Republicans were outraged that the Supreme Court even considered breaching the sacred equal protection to give special rights to some groups over others, while the Democrats are equally outraged that the Republicans would consider breaching the sacred equal protection to some groups over others. The only difference between them is that they back different groups.

A pox on both of their sanctimonious and hypocritical houses.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Responsibility

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.

Yes, that's it, exactly. When you give up your responsibility, you give up your power. Those who want you to forsake your responsibility, and accept comfortable mediocrity, are the ones who want your power so badly they can taste it. But what you give up as "power to", they take as "power over", and not to your benefit.

This essay has me thinking in so many directions that I cannot get them all out, so I'll just make a few notes here, and likely follow up later.

First, I've been thinking about a good response to Francis Poretto's comment on this post of mine about Derrida. My nascent plan is to create a CGI that will do an Eliza-like function, where the text it spits back is some of Derrida's babble. I'm just going to feed the non-English bits through Babelfish, without any editing, as the amount of sense they make is unchanged. (That is to say, they make no sense no matter how presented.) I just haven't figured out yet whether to randomly pick out quotes, or to pick them out based on keyword parsing of the text that's entered. Is it real, or is it Derrida?

Another thing that this has me thinking about is how we stop the schools from indoctrinating our kids with the idea of collective existence. I've always despised this, but never really given it much thought beyond homeschooling our own kids and decrying the ideological brainwashing done in schools in general. Clearly, I need to give this more thought.

Also, this reminds me somewhat of something my wife wrote about 7 or 8 years ago, that I need to go reread.

I wonder what the viability would be of a candidacy for high political office focused around precisely the function and nature of responsibility and freedom. I have always assumed that people who tell the truth are unelectable, but is that really true?

Finally, I am immensely proud to live in a country that can produce people even now, after all of the watering down of the last century, who can think like Bill Whittle. I am proud to live in a country that produces people like Frank J., and attracts people like Kim du Toit and Eugene Volokh. I am not proud that we also not only produce, but many of our fellow citizens celebrate, people like the racist demagogue Al Sharpton, the blatant extortionist and sham Jesse Jackson, and the profoundly disturbing Pat Robertson. Still and all, I'm grateful for the good, and resolved to work against the bad.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 23, 2003

Hurricane Shaniqua

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Apparently, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (Moonbat-TX) is disturbed that hurricanes are not named after black people, and so this is somehow racist. Yeah, that's how we're keeping the blacks down: we don't name massively destructive storms after them. Ha! Back to the plantation with you!

Looking at the 2003 list of names, I suppose that means that Bill Cosby and Danny Glover don't have black enough names. Oh, well, suppose they'll just have to change their names then. There doesn't appear to be a Sheila in the next few years - maybe that's why she's upset?

Please, please, please can we have redistricting now, so that her seat will go away? Please?

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Meaningless Elections

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.

It has been said that the key to making democracy - more particularly representative democracy - work, is to make sure that election results are nearly meaningless. After all, if having your side lose the election means that you end up in prison or have to watch your family be killed while your house burns in the background, any rational person will make damned sure that the results of the election are determined well in advance, and will go to great lengths to ensure that the vote is ignored. The alternative is worse.

One of the great strengths of America at its founding, and for its first century, was that elections were nearly always meaningless. The most that would happen is that a few policies or political appointments would go against you, and you'd get another shot at changing the situation 2 or 4 or 6 years later. In fact, probably the only presidential election whose result really mattered prior to the 1930s was the election of Abraham Lincoln. Had the election gone the other way, it's likely that succession would have been allowed, and both sides knew that going into the election. This is why the Southern Democrats made clear in advance that a Republican presidential victory would mean civil war. And Lincoln's victory triggered that war, almost certainly, just as a Democratic victory would have likely resulted in a separation without civil war, and likely would have made America into a continent more like Europe, with armed borders and contending, rival states entering into frequent (if smaller) wars.

But that was the exception, because let's face it: the stakes were small. There was a minimal government, with very limited powers, which basically could undertake foreign policy, regulate actual commerce between the States, and settle inter-state legal or policy disputes. That was about it. The real power - the ability to change people's lives, power over policies and power to achieve - these were to be had at the State and local levels, to the extent they could be had at all. And if you lived in a State and it went to the dogs, you could always move to another State if you couldn't win back power later.

But FDR changed all that. By the end of his time in office, as a result of his policies during the Depression and WWII, and then with the beginning of the Cold War during Truman's presidency, this had all changed. Suddenly, in a span of less than one generation, the Federal government had begun to batter down the powers of the States, arrogating them to itself. The Federal government took direct control of a large proportion of national wealth through direct taxation (thank you the Progressives!), and used it to create large and unkillable programs like welfare, social security, medicare/medicaid, a large standing Army (arguably a good thing, given that we couldn't really step back into isolationism after WWII), increasingly intrusive regulations on business and personal conduct and the like.

By 1955, beyond any shadow of doubt or possibility of reform by changing the party in office, power was concentrated in the Federal government. The loss of political, financial, and Constitutional constraints on Federal power were gone. (Respectively, these were removed by direct popular election of all Senators, the power of direct taxation, and Supreme Court decisions that allowed the Federal government to do almost anything under the names of interstate commerce or national security plus the arrogation of legislative power to the courts.) Now, when an election was lost, it could mean a decade of losing elections because of redistricting. It could mean a loss of billions of dollars - which soon will be trillions of dollars due to the way our government and economy are both growing. It could mean judges who would effectively determine law for decades at least, without the ability to appeal short of Constitutional Amendment. It could mean moving the country towards socialism, or towards corporatism - with virtually no Federal office holders believing that the economy should be a truly free market. For a businessman, it could mean the difference between expansion and bankruptcy. For an individual, it could mean choosing between rights to behave socially as they wish, or economically as they wish.

In other words, elections had by the mid-1950s become important. Deadly important. And when elections become that important, they are important enough that some will choose to violate any rule or principle, to cheat and to steal and to lie, to do anything to win.

I think that this must have fallen hardest on the Democrats, because they had been effectively in nearly-complete control for almost a hundred years in the South, and more than 50 in the North, by the time that the I became interested in politics in the 1980s. With such a legacy of power, it was difficult, I think, for Democrats to give that up.

Yet the country was becoming more conservative. In the aftermath of Viet Nam (which was somehow transformed into a "Republican war") and Watergate, the public was willing to give the Democrats a virtual blank check to run the country. The result was the narrow election of Jimmy Carter, which almost certainly would have gone the other way if not for vote fraud in Chicago, which Gerald Ford (wisely, I think) did not challenge, because it would have been too divisive.

But the Carter presidency was a disaster. People remember the Iran hostage crisis, but forget much of the rest of the state of the US at the time. Interest rates were sky-high, making home ownership all but unaffordable - and moving (if you had a home) impractical. Inflation was equally out of control, and the value of the dollar was dropping like a stone. Abroad, we had given up control of the Panama Canal early, and for little benefit to ourselves, and without ensuring that the Panamanian government could actually operate the canal. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and many analysts thought that the USSR would have a warm water port and control of Persian Gulf oil within a decade. Our military was so undermanned, underequipped and demoralised that we were expected to lose any potential war in Europe, and the transition to a professional military, which was just beginning, had not had time to show its promise. The most common term used to describe the state of the US was "malaise."

In the aftermath of this disaster, Ronald Reagan was able to tap into the fundamentally optimistic nature of Americans. Reagan delivered, too: by the end of his first term, the military buildup that would eventually defeat the USSR without firing a shot was well under way; the economy had recovered and was growing dramatically (despite later Democratic attempts to declare the 1980s as economically disastrous, because of huge layoffs as the economy became more productive - note here the rise of Michael Moore); interest rates and inflation had been tamed; marginal tax rates and stifling regulation had been reduced; a series of minor wars, well and cheaply won, showed that the United States was capable of military victory; environmental quality was improving; standards of living rose dramatically. It was a good time for America.

The Democrats, who had been veering Left ever since the 1972 election, paid for Carter's failure in spades, as the country moved increasingly conservative fiscally and on foreign policy. For 12 years, the Republicans gained increasing control at all levels of government. And then, something close to unbelievable happened: a minor-state governor with unexceptional policies and views, but exceptional drive and political savvy, managed to defeat a sitting president in the wake of one of America's more astonishing military victories and in a growing economy. I think that the real reason for George Bush's loss - the cause of the checking of the country's move to the Right - was that the social conservatives overreached. People like Pat Buchanan and Billy Graham scared the fiscal and foreign-policy conservatives enough that they didn't show up to vote, or more likely they voted for Perot.

Bill Clinton was ruthless, charming, uncompromising, brilliant, nihilistic, passionate, petty, cunning and vindictive. He was able to play on the fear, uncertainty and doubt lingering over the just-ended recession and the overreach of social conservatives, and to convince voters to give him a chance. But Clinton, too, overreached - almost immediately. His policies on gays in the military satisfied no one, while his tax increases and attempt to socialize medical care scared almost everyone. At the same time, the Republicans publicly and visibly began to ostracize the social conservatives, to remove them from the decade of control they had had over the Republican Party's policy decisions. (To a large extent, this came about because of Pat Buchanan's challenge to Bush in the primaries, which likely cost Bush the election - it did far more damage than did Perot's fitful candidacy. The Republican moderates were furious.) The combination of Clinton's too-far-Left policies and the Republican reformation led the Republicans to control of the House and Senate for the first time in some 40 years, and restarted the country's rightwards drift.

I believe that it was in the wake of the Gingrich-led Republican resurgence that the Democrats decided not to lose again, at any cost. In one way, this was good, as it led to, for example, Clinton moderating his policies, and adopting welfare reform and a balanced budget after they were forced upon him. In another way, though, it has led to some terrible consequences.

In gubernatorial elections in Florida, Lawton Chiles' campaign phoned senior citizens on the eve of the election to tell them that the Republican gubernatorial candidate was going to cut their Social Security. While this was impossible for a governor to do, nonetheless the tactic worked. In Oklahoma, the then-Democratic legislature would pass unconstitutional bills just before each election to ban poll watchers, thus facilitating vote fraud. These laws would be thrown out right after the election, but a new law would be ready just in time for the next election anyway. In more recent campaigns, Democrats have substituted candidates after legally-imposed deadlines with the complicity of Democratic State judges. The Democrats have announced who would be appointed to fill a vacant seat if the Democratic candidate - who had died just before the election - were to win, campaigned all out for that outcome, and chided the Republican candidate to stop campaigning against a dead man. (Bet they wish they could take the Carnahan election back now, eh?) The Democrats attempted to rig the 2000 election in Florida, again with the complicity of Democratic State judges, against all law and precedent, then screamed that the Supreme Court selected George Bush to be President, because the Supreme Court ruled that the Florida State Supreme Court was not the Florida Legislature and could not arbitrarily determine the rules of the election after the election had been held. In Texas, the Democratic legislators have twice walked out to prevent a proper redistricting, which they had initially prevented (in the aftermath of the 2000 election) by forcing the issue into a court of their choosing.

These are just the most visible examples, among many. The thing is, though, that Republicans shouldn't get too smug. The only reason that I can see that Republicans have not done the same, is that the Republicans are the ones who are winning. But even during the Clinton presidency, the Republicans were making gains in Congress and in State governments. As high as the stakes are now, as much as the government controls and decides, it wouldn't take many years of declining influence for the Republicans to fight just as dirty. If you don't believe me, consider the extremist social conservative elements (almost exclusively Republican) and their battles over abortion (up to and including the murder of OB/GYNs who perform abortions) and putting Christian monuments in public courts.

By taking power away from the people, and away from the States, and concentrating it in the Federal government, the stakes have been raised too high to allow for a gentle loss and a peaceful handover of power, too high for there to ever be a time where the next election isn't being fought. But I think that all of this came about because of a lack of faith in the people. If we don't trust people to make their own fiscal and personal decisions wisely, or States to make regulatory decisions wisely, and instead insist on government control of every aspect of life, then we reasonbly conclude that power must be concentrated as much as possible. And this is the foundation of the policies of both major parties. The Democrats want to control our fiscal behavior, and the Republicans want to control our social behavior. With all of the power of unlimited government behind them, how could they pass up the opportunity to rule?

But that's the thing, really. We Americans shouldn't be electing rulers. We should be electing representatives and governors and presidents. And the very first and most important duty of those people should not be to accumulate control, but to shed it. The purpose of government is to protect the citizens so that they can create the economy and society they want, not to mandate the economy and society they must accept. To do otherwise is very, very un-American.

And in the end, this is why I have stated that there should be a Constitutional Convention. A country with faith in its people, with a government that has the powers the people want it to have - no more and no less - would have meaningless elections. And that's a good thing.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Alannis Morisette, Call Your Office

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I think it's terribly ironic that the money spent to do this faux space ride, $100 million, would have been sufficient to do this actual spacecraft program three to five times. Even rides of the NASA philisophy cost too much.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 22, 2003

The Real Reason for the Iraq Campaign

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Tom Friedman is generally either really wacko, or dead on, depending on the day. Today, he's dead on. Today's article is about why we really went to war in Iraq, why we didn't use our real reasons as jusitification, and what it means.

As Mr. Stothard recalled the scene outside Mr. Blair's office: "the prime minister takes a walk out into the hall and stands, shaking out his limbs, between [his political adviser] Sally Morgan's door and a dark oil painting of Pitt the Younger. . . . Morgan is away from her desk. [Mr. Blair] looks into the empty interior as if the answer to the latest state of the vote count will emerge from her filing cabinets nonetheless. He comes back out, disappointed, and looks around him. `What amazes me,' [Mr. Blair says,] `is how many people are happy for Saddam to stay. They ask why we don't get rid of [the Zimbabwean leader Robert] Mugabe, why not the Burmese lot. Yes, let's get rid of them all. I don't because I can't, but when you can you should.' "

Alas, Mr. Blair never really made this case to his public. Why not? Because the British public never would have gone to war for the good reasons alone. Why not? Because the British public had not gone through 9/11 and did not really feel threatened, because it demanded a U.N. legal cover for any war and because it didn't like or trust George Bush.

Yes, what takes me aback here is the degree of European-style anti-Americanism and anti-Bushism in Britain — which Mr. Blair's personal and overt pro-Americanism has disguised. "Blair had a real George Bush problem," says John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "George Bush is disliked by a large segment of the British public. He offends the European sense of nuance. The favorite European color is gray and the only colors President Bush recognizes are black and white. So in supporting the war, Blair was not just going against European public opinion, he was going against his own."

...

Unless real W.M.D.'s are found in Iraq, Gulf War II will for now and for years to come be known as "the controversial Gulf War II" — and the hyped reasons for the war will obscure the still good ones. Only future historians will be able to sort out this war's ultimate validity. It is too late or too early for the rest of us.

It's too late, because no one will ever know what Saddam would've done had Messrs Blair and Bush not acted. And it's too early, because the good reasons for this war — to unleash a process of reform in the Arab-Muslim region that will help it embrace modernity and make it less angry and more at ease with the world — will take years to play out.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

I Feel Like Using InstaPundit's Mannerisms

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Heh.

It surely tells you something about the strength of the Administration when sophisticated enemies abroad look to a Democratic replacement as their only hope for survival.

Indeed.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 21, 2003

SpamSpamSpamSpam

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OK, so this is interesting. Well, it's interesting to me, anyway. It seems that this blog has started getting spam in the comments. I've gotten a "make money fast" spam posted and an "increase the visibility of your website in search engines" spam, both in the last couple of days. Both "comments" were deleted, and their IPs banned, but I wonder how common this is?

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 20, 2003

Authority

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The Raving Atheist responds to a comment I made in response to a post of his that - well you get the idea; go read his post, and the chain becomes apparent.

I just wanted to add three quick notes. First, I didn't read Braue's material that Megan referenced. I'm not that interested in Talmudic law per se. I'm more interested in the structure of arguments, and the flaws I detected in Raving's argument. It seemed to me that he was making an appeal to a specific axiom set in order to refute an appeal to a different axiom set. I disagree with him that Megan was rejecting Talmudic law outright; or at least, I disagree that her comments show that she was so doing.

Secondly, I conciously recognize that the process of logic is the best way to conclusively and non-violently settle an argument. (This belief is itself axiomatic - and could be wrong, if a better way can be found.) Logic is not a belief system per se, but a set of tools to deduce or induce new meaning or information from meaning and information already known, including whatever axiom set you start with. Natural Law has an axiom set, certainly, and the belief in the axioms of Natural Law appears to coincide closely with a receptivity to using logic to settle arguments, or at least reduce them to axiomatic conflicts, because it arose directly out of logical philosophical study. Nonetheless, it is not only Natural Law that allows or encourages logic, and indeed most Western philosophies and religion do so (though some are late converts indeed). This is why Steven Den Beste and Donald Sensing, both using logic, but each starting from a different point, can come to different conclusions, and each respect the other's reasoning.

Finally, I'm not sure where "the claim that everyone has axioms that make sense to them and nobody's in any better position than anyone else to know what the truth is" comes from what I said. I would agree with a similar statement, though: everyone has axioms that make sense to them, and it is impossible to logically disprove those axioms, though it may be possible to logically disprove the belief systems based on those axioms (for example, by finding inconsistencies).

There is a difference between truth, which is what actually is, and belief, which is what is assumed to be. All beliefs arising from axioms are logically equal, because each starts with an unprovable set of axioms. It is possible to construct logical belief systems from unacceptable axiom sets. I don't think that it is possible to prove anything once you get to the point of axiomatic disagreement, which is not the same thing as saying that I accept all axioms as equally valid. Eliminating all self-contradicting axiom sets, I still think that some axiom sets are superior to others. Any axiom set that allows for, say, slavery, is in my opinion fundamentally flawed. I cannot logically prove that, however, because eventually an argument over slavery comes down to the axiomatic question of whether or not a person has a right to control his own life. Any axiom set that arises from a negative answer to that question is, in my opinion, morally flawed. But there is a difference between morally flawed and provably false.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

I'm Actually Not Surprised

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Mrs. Du Toit and Dean Esmay are agog at this Samizdata post.

Communist leaders plan to amend China's constitution to formally enshrine the ideology of Jiang Zemin, the recently retired leader who invited capitalists to join the Communist Party. Despite sweeping economic and social changes, the political status of China's entrepreneurs is still ambiguous.

There have been no details of the possible changes although foreign analysts say they include the communist era's first guarantee of property rights. Certain amendments are still needed to promote economic and social development [emphasis in original], said the party newspaper People's Daily. It said the changes were meant to cope with accelerating globalization and advances in science and technology.

Jiang's theory, the awkwardly named "Three Represents," calls for the 67 million-member party to embrace capitalists, updating its traditional role as a "vanguard of the working class" and for the constitution to formally uphold property rights and the rights of entrepreneurs.


Actually, it doesn't surprise me one bit. I've been arguing for years that China is likely on the road to becoming a free capitalist country, which is why I said this in March: "those nations which adopted Western values (including Israel, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan - and possibly including China)".

Before I get into why and when I came to this conclusion, I should disclose that I lived in Taiwan for 4 years, though I was young enough that I mostly remember the NCO club, where I won a prize for the best joke ("Why did the elephant sit on the fence? So he wouldn't fall into the hot chocolate." -- I told you I was young!), the one-handed monkey in the cage outside the ground-floor garage of the Hai Shan guest house, the pigs in the alley behind it, picking up tile pieces with my Dad near where they were building the apartments, our dog, the nuns at the Catholic kindergarten, breaking my arm - in other words, no hint of politics. Even the language is fairly completely gone now. I don't claim special understanding of China from this.

When the Tiananmen Square disaster happened, I was horrified, believing that China's actions were totally without merit or redemption. While I still believe that the killing of students in cold blood - using the PLA against the people for the first time - was immoral and reprehensible, I do understand its one merit, now: China is not Russia. Could you imagine the disaster that would have befallen Asia had China liberalized a la perestroika? China is far more backwards even now than Russia was in the late 1980s, and has less coping mechanisms against disaster. The fault in Russia and much of the rest of the former USSR (and to a much lesser extent the Eastern European countries) was that they went from near-total state control to near anarchy without any intervening cushion or even education. As a result, Russia was effectively taken over by gangsters, and almost fell into civil war and utter disaster. The ongoing fighting in Chechnya shows how close Russia can still be to that abyss.

Had that happened in China, with its 1 billion population, and a still mostly-agrarian and rural economy, the dead would have numbered in the tens of millions - possibly in the hundreds of millions if the society dissolved into another civil war. If nothing else, Tienanmen gave the Chinese leadership - at that time already beginning liberalization - the ability to ease into the process.

The Chinese have never been free. Even in Taiwan, under US tutelege, freedom only really came in the last 15 to 20 years. Hong Kong, under the British, and Macao, under the Portugese?, were too small to provide examples to a country the size of China. In the West, before the idea of freedom became established, there were about 700 years of increasing freedom and the building of institutions to allow a country to stably exist with political and economic freedom. Increasing property rights, rights of trade, limitations of the rights of the nobility, the rise of banking and the middle class, the standardization of rates of exchange and all of the the other myriad items that make it possible to have a free nation, were built up slowly in the West.

The USSR had tried to build up parallel institutions, with similar names but dissimilar attitudes, rights, powers and behaviors. As a result, suddently set free, the system imploded. The same or worse would have happened in China - particularly in the aftermath of the "Great Leap Forward." If you look at China's actions - gradual implementation of a limited free market in a limited area, then expanding both the area and the freedom of the market, putting Western banking structures (including lending, interest and contract enforcement rights) further into effect and the like - well, to me anyway it looks like China is on a 50-year program to become a capitalist, multiparty, probably-federal republic. I believe that the next steps we will see, as the economy grows and the population begins to urbanize, is an expansion of the local voting for councils, followed by the establishment of semi-autonomous provinces (still under the Communist Party) with their own governments and powers. Greater industrialization, driven from the ground up by the opening market and from the top down by divestiture of industries over time, will bring greater wealth, and with it a true middle class. The growth of the middle class and the decreasing control of the central government will bring calls for greater and greater degrees of representation by the people. In particular, it will bring calls for a loosening of the very controls that keep the government in power: control over the press, the religions and so on.

At this point, China will face a crisis, and the Communist Party will have two choices: allow multi-party elections or fall to internal revolution. And because China has not yet faced that crisis, and we don't know what sort of leader will be in power when they do, it's too soon to tell whether or not China will eventually be a free nation.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 18, 2003

Humility is a Dish Best Served

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I am not frequently accused of being humble, or of keeping my opinions to myself. OK, I'll wait for a moment while friends and family get in their laugh at the understatement. Better? Fine. Anyway, I suspect that this is likely true of most bloggers. However, it is always wise to not get too steeped in one's reputation.

Phil Carter of Intel Dump is well-recognized and well-read for his analysis of and insights on military policy. He has written for several rather well-regarded papers. However, he got a bit ahead of himself today:

I should be clear: I allege no plagiarism or dishonesty here. I borrowed from Fehrenbach, and I certainly didn't come to my own conclusions about everything I wrote about. The accepted norm is to borrow good ideas where you find them, whether it's in the Washington Monthly or the Weekly Standard.

Therein lies the irony. Sen. Hutchison's politics are quite different from mine, and probably quite different than the average Washington Monthly reader. I find some irony in the fact that a Republican senator from the President's home state would seize on ideas in a liberal magazine to criticize the foreign policy decisions of the Bush Administration. But I guess that truth is often stranger than fiction.


Given that the Senator has been arguing in favor of expanding the military since well before Phil's March article - indeed, since well before 9/11 - this statement is a little over the top. Isn't it just possible that Senator Hutchison, who is quite involved in defense policy in the Senate, came to the quote independently, particularly given its wide usage? Somehow, the idea that one has to read "a liberal magazine" to recognize that the force was cut too deeply is annoying to me. Good ideas can come from all over the place, and the fact that two people who think differently come to the same conclusion is not really surprising, assuming that the conclusion is logical.

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August 17, 2003

Technical Support

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I am not going to tell you about my current technical support woes, because you've heard it all before. I will just say this instead: if you are, say, Microsoft; and if you buy a company, say Connectix, with good products like, say, Virtual PC; and if you basically hang up on the customers when they call support - not even having the decency to hang up in person, but letting the automatic system hang up for you; and if you right before hanging up tell them to go to your support website; and if you then make it impossible for customers to get support on the purchased product over the web because the product doesn't have one of your product numbers; and if you provide no mechanism for customers to say "Hey, I'm trying to get support but I can't even get to the point where I can try to get support"; then you can forget about getting any money out of me to update that excellent product, which I otherwise might have done at some point, when I start using it again regularly.

I hate companies which have the easiest-to-use sales systems in the world, combined with the most impossible-to-use (and expensive if you don't want it to be impossible) support systems. It's basically telling your customer "Thanks for the money, but don't bother us when we've screwed up." And it's not a way to get my money.

The desktop computer industry contains an overabundance of such companies.

UPDATE: OK, the reason that I use VirtualPC is to run Project and Visio, which don't have Mac versions. When you're doing IT work, people expect you to have Office, Visio and Project, and are stunned when you don't. When you are doing this on contract, it's not good for business to tell your clients to pick another format to send you. VirtualPC has the added bonus that you can play PC games on the airplane, and run the occasional Windows-only program you just need to use once - like the console for Checkpoint firewall.

I am most likely about to start doing contract work again, and so would have most likely upgraded VirtualPC were it not for the lousy support I've gotten. So instead, I'll be buying ConceptDraw to replace Visio, and FastTrack Schedule to replace MS Project. (I currently own both Visio and Project.) So MS loses a potential upgrade sale of $100 (plus future upgrades of VirtualPC, Visio and Project) and two other companies get a total of $550 plus future upgrade revenue. All because of an inability to get minimal service on a product.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Redistricting

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Grim suggests a fairly bone-headed idea for non-partisan districting. To be fair, at least he's thinking about the problem, which is more than our elected representatives are doing. (OK, they're thinking about the problem, too, but about how to take advantage of it rather than how to solve it.)

I am glad that Grim is at least trying to address the problem. Still, there are several reasons that the idea is bone-headed. First, it takes no account of existing political or geographic boundaries, which means that there is no way of keeping constituencies with similar interests together. Second, choosing a point and drawing the lines in the correct way will still provide an ability to somewhat rig the boundaries. Third, the proposal takes no account of the role of the courts in recent redistricting battles (what's to prevent the courts from throwing out the plan altogether and choosing their own initial point and radial increments?). Fourth, the suggestion lets the legislature off the hook. Finally, any legislation that relies on telling people to act in any way other than their best interests, and which would fail if people do act in their best interests, is destined to fail.

I proposed a solution over at Aubrey Turner's blog, in this comments to this post. Here is my full comment:

I've been thinking about this lately, too, and here's what I came up with:

1. All districts must be equal in population, using the US Census data, within 1% of the average of all districts. (That is to say, if the average is 1,345,038 people per district, no district may be larger than 1,358,488 people, nor smaller than 1,331,587 people.
2. The sum of the lengths of all inter-district boundaries must be a minima, except that the boundaries can be adjusted to match existing geographical or political boundaries.
3. No redistricting plan passed by the legislature can be challenged in court, except on a violation of either or both of the first two points, and then only if the plan passed by less than a 2/3 vote. The court's sole discretion would be to declare the plan invalid and require the legislature to re-address the issue.
4. Failure of the legislature to pass a redistricting plan within one year of the need originally arising, would result in the legislature being disbanded, a special election called, and the former members of the legislature being ineligible to stand for re-election.

This would create a process whereby the legislature's ability to play partisan politics over this issue would be reduced, the court's ability to declare a solution would be reduced, and the people would be given the final appeal should the process break down. (At the very least, the idiots not doing their job would get thrown out.)


This idea might, of course, also be bone-headed, and I could just be missing it, but I do think it a better solution than anything else I've yet seen proposed.

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August 14, 2003

Oh, My

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Tasty Manatees points to a Rutland (VT) Herald article, containing some of Howard Dean's comments just after 9/11. Dean, then Governor, apparently broached the possibility of some far-reaching civil liberties violations:

Dean said Wednesday he believed that the attacks and their aftermath would "require a re-evaluation of the importance of some of our specific civil liberties. I think there are going to be debates about what can be said where, what can be printed where, what kind of freedom of movement people have and whether it's OK for a policeman to ask for your ID just because you're walking down the street."

Dean's attacks on President Bush over civil rights are ringing a bit hollow right about now.
We need more Democrats who are willing to stand against Bush's reckless disregard for our civil liberties. As Americans, we need to stand up and ensure that our laws reflect our values. As President, I will repeal those parts of the Patriot Act that undermine our constitutional rights, and will stand against any further attempts to expand the government's reach at the expense of our civil liberties.

Apparently, though, Dean is OK with reconsidering the First Amendment. OK, then.

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Paying your Taxes

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Tasty Manatees has a great post which suggests making people actually pay their taxes, rather than withholding them automatically. I've ranted about this fairly frequently over the last several years, so just go read Ryan's article so that I don't have to start up again.

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Aftermath

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We are in the aftermath of the Cold War, and it is time for us to recalculate how global security is to be maintained. The institutions of the Cold War - the UN, NATO and other standing multinational alliances, proxy warfare, and the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction - were sufficient to the task of keeping the world from descending into a third world war, by providing the incentives and methods to step down before a hot war could start between major powers.

Those institutions, though, are simply not up to the task of dealing with today's challenges:

  • The UN - in the guise of the IAEA and the NPT - are incapable of stopping states from developing nuclear weapons - even near-absolute pariahs like North Korea. The spread of chemical and biological weapons is even broader, and these are very dangerous against cities or in confined areas (for example, Israel is very threatened by these weapons, because it is so small, and so close to enemies which have at least chemical weapons).
  • NATO has proven to be unable to cope with security problems in their own backyard, unless the US decides to be the prime mover. As a result, the crises in the Balkans in the 1990s spiralled out of control until the US decided to intervene. This is not surprising, since NATO was really designed as a defensive alliance against invasion, rather than as a European guarantor of peace.
  • No organizations or mechanisms exist to try to solve the problem of terrorism. Indeed, member states of the UN have used this as a tactic against other member states in order to keep just this side of overtly attacking their neighbors (think Syria and Israel, for one example).
  • The UN has proven incapable of restraining agression between states. In the few cases where inter-state aggression has been challenged, the challenge has come from the US, using the UN, and would have happened without UN sanction. (Indeed, in the cases of the recent Iraq campaign and Kosovo, there was no UN sanction.) I cannot think of any examples of successful UN-sanctioned interventions which did not involve the US, unless the British action in Sierra Leone was conducted under UN mandate.
  • The UN has proven incapable of preventing genocide and massacres, even when their troops were ostensibly protecting the victims. (Search google for 'un peacekeepers massacre "failed to prevent"' and look at the shameful roster.)

What is needed is a new framework for securing the world. The outline of such a framework is beginning to emerge.

One pillar of a new security regime would be local intervention by regional powers. The US would provide the backing force to ensure that the interventions didn't fail. The Australian interventions throughout Oceania are an example of how this can be done. The US is also really pushing the West African states (via ECOMIL), particularly Nigeria, to take up regional security in West Africa. This is how the Liberian operation is being handled, with a relatively-small US force on the ground, and a much larger force offshore, supporting the ECOMIL intervention.

It is up in the air whether Britain would be a power in its own right or part of the EU. If Britain elects to remain independent, they most likely would retain some global role. I don't see the EU, though, engaging in any activities outside of Europe and maybe North Africa. At least it can be hoped that the EU can be convinced not to sponsor and aid terrorists and dictators.

South Africa, Brazil, India, Iran (after its regime is changed), Turkey, the EU, and Japan all need to be brought on board to this philosophy, and helped in its implementation. Together with Australia and the US, this would allow for a spread of free-market, representative, and secular government to bring long-term stability, on the backs of the regional powers to create the short-term (5-10 years) conditions for that stability to arise.

The regional powers, acting in concert with the United States and with each other, would be able to create and enforce the peace, spread good government and good economics, and in general lift the prospects of much of the world's population. In the circumstances where this is not enough, the US could intervene decisively, and undertake the 20-year plus projects (as it did with Germany, Japan and South Korea, and is now doing in Iraq).

For those states which are in-between, neither failed nor free - including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Vietnam, some of the African countries, and so on - the US and regional powers could apply economic and military leverage (both cooperative and coercive, as needed) to push them in the right direction. In particular, these states are likely capable of doing a great deal in the fight against terrorism and WMD proliferation, and many of them could liberalize without falling into anarchy, though their lives may literally have to depend on it first.

I believe that this kind of arrangement could result in a generally-stable world in the long-term, with the threat of international terrorism and WMD proliferation decreasing over time and the threat of international wars declining even faster, although Africa would remain a basket case for quite a while, I suspect. Of course, in the shorter term, the world would have to be made deliberately unstable, and that will be strongly resisted. The old arrangements of the UN and NATO and similar alliances would dissolve, with coalitions of the willing - generally the regional powers and the US, with maybe a few other states along - coming together as needed instead.

I think that this is the outline that the British, US and Australians are pushing towards, and I hope for success. The alternative - nuclear terrorism - is too horrible to contemplate.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Prediction

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Glenn Reynolds will link to this post within four hours - if he has not already done so, or died - with the following comment:

Heh.

Indeed.

Bet on it.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The Significance of Iraq

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Belmont Club has a great article on the significance of Iraq in the war on terror, Europe's role in Iraq in the wake of the UN bombing, and how the war on terror differs from past conflicts.

The engagement between US forces and a coalition of Ba'ath and Islamist elements has thrown up a bundle of ratlines -- the threads of cells, clandestine routes and support structures which are the basic tactical units in this war. But unlike wars of the past, tactical units are not engaged linearly. The prosecution of a ratline discovered in Mosul is not geographically confined to Iraq but may immediately translate to action in Amman, the West Bank, Thailand, the High Seas or Buffalo, New York. In this deadly game, cells are not always destroyed but sometimes turned. The "sting" operation aimed at corralling arms dealers selling surface to air missiles is one example. And the overall aim of the War is not the physical death of Islamic militants per se so much as the corruption and weakening of their organization and parent regimes. Nor is this effect imaginary. The seismic effect of the War on Terror can be gauged from the upheavals in Riyadh and Teheran.

Thomas Friedman has accidentally hit upon the key strategic value of Iraq in the War on Terror. It is a rich recruiting ground of Arab intelligence assets. It is bursting with ratlines. Iraq is valuable to America because it is full of Kurds and Arabs -- the raw material of the American sword. America is in Iraq for the very same reason that Al-Qaeda set up shop in London, Berlin and Paris: to seize human beachheads in the heart of enemy territory. As such Iraq is both flypaper and springboard and has the potential to be a decisive battleground in and of itself. The War on Terror is a struggle for the hearts of hundreds of millions. Its task is not to turn Arabs into imitation Americans so much as to create the conditions under which Muslims can reconsider and remodel their whole culture. In the process, every regime in the Middle East will be shaken to its very core. Ruling houses will fall. Boundaries will be redrawn. America herself will be transformed in ways that no one understands.


(Hat tip: One Hand Clapping)

And if you're not yet convinced that you should be reading Belmont Club, let me offer this quote from another post, on the capture of Hambali:

The one thing which plastic surgery could not hide were the strange men who Hambali's neighbors noticed visiting his apartment. Men who stood out in that carefree Thai tourist town with an aura of earnestness; whose backgrounds, once examined by the alerted police didn't quite add up. Every clandestine operator should know the danger: the unmistakable signature of a coven of true believers caught like deer in the headlights by accidental intrusion of neighbors from the workaday world. But Hambali did not.

As he returned to his apartment on his last night of freedom, other men forged in equally strange but different ways foregathered in the dark. They, too, had walked the hills of Afghanistan; they too had found a brotherhood. They too were prophets from another place. Hard-muscled and in mufti, they were joined by trusted members of the Thai police. Hambali's neighbors recalled the urgent knocks on the door answered only by silence. After an interval a crash and the sounds of a struggle before silence returned anew.


And then there's this, from a post on al Qaeda's recent attempts at reconstitution and counter-attack, and the Left's reaction to al Qaeda:
At no point since 1940 has the Left been forced to into such an absurd position. Just as Hitler and Stalin had to be portrayed as beneficent when they were patently predators soley to satisfy ideological requirements, the Left must project the simultaneous image of an omnipotent and helpless America; of a War on Terror at once unwinnable and yet too easily won by a bullying United States. The Islamic "militants" must be portrayed as both supermen and victims, and the Left the soul of reason. But absurdities are familiar friends to true believers; and the Left are the neediest of all the faithful.

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August 12, 2003

The Saudi Civil War

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It has been said by many that the war on terror is really just an Arab civil war (between socialist Pan-Arab nationalists and fascist Islamist militants), exported to the world to keep the Muslims from killing each other. Saudi Arabia is the microcosm of this - and in fact its source. The Wahabbi sect provides the house of Sa'ud with legitimacy, and the house of Sa'ud in return exports Wahabbism around the world.

Adam Sullivan at the Karmic Inquisition has some thoughts on how we can turn this to our advantage, inciting the civil war within Saudi Arabia, and using that to cut off the financing of the Islamists.

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Don't Applaud; Just Throw Money

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I have found the funniest thing I think I've ever come across. It is a book/CD combination by Sandra Boynton (author of But Not the Hippopotamus and many other kids' books) that is a takeoff on the album Chant, and is called Grunt - the Pigorian Chant. These songs are all sung by barnyard animals, in the style of a monastic chant. All of the animals sing in Latin. Except the pigs, who sing in Pig Latin. Because no text can possibly give a sense of how funny this is, here is track two, and here are the lyrics:

Anima Fundi
(Life-Breath of the Farm)

i. Spiritus i. Spirit.
Voice:
Vox spiritus fundi
sumus.
Dormiunt omnes.
Stertunt Porci clari
Auscultate:

We are the voice
of the spirit of the farm.
Everyone is asleep.
The famous Pigs are snoring.
Listen:
Pigs:
Ore-snay. Ore-snay.
Ore-snay. Ore-snay.
Ore-snay. Ore-snay.

Snore, snore,
snore, snore,
snore, snore...
ii. Aurora [Bell tolls five] ii. Dawn
Rooster:
Coccadoodul du.
Ego dixi:
Coccadoodul du.

Cock-a-doodle-doo.
I said,
Cock-a-doodle-doo.
Chickens:
O, primam lucem.
Sol surgit.
Gallus magnifice
incedens exclamat.
Nunc venit agricola.

O, first light!
The sun is rising.
The strutting
rooster calls.
Now comes the farmer.
Solo Chicken:
Ecce Macdonaldus Senex,
qui fundam habet.
E-I-E-I-O.

Behold Old MacDonald,
who has a farm.
E-I-E-I-O.
Cows:
Et in hoc fundo,
nonnullas boves
domesticas habet.
E-I-E-I-O.
Cum moo moo hic,
cum moo moo ibi.
Hic una moo,
ibi una moo,
ubique una moo moo.

And on this farm,
he has
some cows.
E-I-E-I-O..
With a moo moo here,
and a moo moo there.
Here a moo,
there a moo,
everywhere a moo moo.
Solo Chicken:
Macdonaldus Senex
fundum habet.
E-I-E-I-O.
Et in hoc fundo,
nonnullos porcos
habet.
E-I-E-I-O.

Old MacDonald
has a farm
E-I-E-I-O.
And on this farm,
he has some pigs.
E-I-E-I-O.
Dux:
Ni oink oink hic.
Ni oink oink ibi.
Ubi sunt Porci
quoquomodo?

No oink oink here.
No oink oink there.
So where are the Pigs
already?
Farmer:
Sooo-ee. Soooooooo-eeee.
Ubi sunt Porci quoquomodo?

Sooee, sooee.
So where are the pigs already?
Chickens:
Dormiunt.
Vocat ad se frustra.

They're sleeping.
He summons in vain.
Farmer:
Et in Arcadia sum.

And this is pastoral paradise?


Go forth and purchase: such genius must be rewarded. Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

A Lesson the French Could Learn

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My friend Nathan is a wargamer. He particularly enjoys large and complex games, with a good range of strategic thinking necessary to win. A story he tells has to do with such a game, World in Flames. World in Flames represents the time leading up to WWII, and all of WWII, all over the world. Nathan, playing France, had been very careful in setting up his power in the Mediterranean in the mid-1930s, and when Italy started to get a little too adventurous, he moved. Positioning a large force off of Italy just South of Rome, Nathan told the Italian player - who knew his capital was going to be taken, his army cut in half, and his navy eliminated if he fought under the prevailing balance of forces - to remove his army from the border with France, and by the way give up Sicily and Naples, too. The Italian player asked what Nathan would give him for these concessions, and Nathan's answer was, "Nothing." When the Italian player - incredulous - asked, "Why not?", Nathan's answer was classic: "I don't have to."

And that is the first story I think about when I read things like Steven Den Beste's post on maneuvering at the UN. The real France could learn a lesson from Nathan's game, I think.

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Distributed Defense

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Terrorism is not an enemy. Terrorism is a tactic. Terrorists are enemies, and we are tracking them down and killing them, depriving them of finances and bases of support, and generally making their life miserable as best we can. We are, as far as I can tell from what I'm able to find in the press and in conversations with people who are involved, doing a pretty good job of that.

We appear to be failing, though, to get homeland security right. Partially, this is because we are acting like threatened cats: puffing ourselves up to look bigger and scarier than we really are. Hence the inconveniences at airports, many of which add more to the appearance of security than to its actual efficacy. Partially, too, this is because we don't know what we are doing yet. There are a lot of lessons to learn. And partially, this is because we are facing an unprecedented threat: any of the uncountable soft targets in our very infrastructure-dependent society can be attacked by a small number of determined people, with easily-acquired and concealed weapons, at the time of their choosing.

Large, complex and distributed systems - whether deliberately-created like our electrical system or created as a side-effect of something else like our cities and towns - are the result of competing forces. There are four major forces to consider, particularly in deliberately-created systems: scalability, redundancy, managability and cost. Scalability requires local control; redundancy requires excess capacity; managability (or, more often, the appearance of managability) improves with centralized control; cost increases with excess capacity and overheads incurred to put layers of management (or accountability, if you want to phrase it a bit differently) on top of a distributed system. Cost also includes non-monetary costs, particularly in non-deliberate systems. Obviously, any such system will be a compromise.

Our government (itself a large, complex and somewhat distributed system) is, like all governments I am aware of, highly centralizing: all problems are taken to the highest possible level, and the solutions generated there are filtered down to the lower levels. (I realize that this is not how we were supposed to be, and it's not how the Constitution envisions things, but think for a moment about the Federal government's power over education alone - one of the most local issues possible - and tell me that I am wrong about the reality.) This is because being able to put the finger of blame on a guilty party (or a plausible scapegoat) requires centralization, and this is more important in the government than anything else, including the efficacy of any particular program. This is even true of the Department of Defense during wartime - look at the headhunting for who was "at fault" for the pause in operations during the sandstorms of the Iraq campaign's second week.

It so happens that a natural emergent feature of free-market democracies is a tendency to create very distributed systems. This arises out of people having similar entreprenurial ideas, which then grow together over time as they mutually reinforce. The resulting systems, as they tie together, are often chaotic, spread over large areas, with no central locus of control and typically an unusual amount of excess capacity. Such systems are very vulnerable to terrorist attack, because the critical points of the system are so numerous that it is impossible to defend them all all of the time, yet a successful attack on any one will cause great damage. Note that this works for the population as a whole in democracies as well, where freedom of movement and freedom to choose where you live combine to create a difficult-to-control pattern of population. Will the attack come on a bus? At a mall or a supermarket? At the theater? Which one?

In some systems, particularly those with high up front costs to enter the market, and low marginal costs to operate, the tendency is towards corporate monopoly. The government tends to regulate in such a way as to increase accountability and extract either politcal points or revenue or both from the system (both of which are disincentives to running a system that is not as lean as possible), rather than to decrease central control and add excess capacity. Finally, the profit motive leads costs to be cut on any system wherever possible, and excess capacity costs money.

The result of all of these tendencies is that a single bit of equipment at a single switching station at the right place on the power grid can shut down power for several states, and a single pumping station at a single pipeline, chosen correctly, can leave a major metropolitan area without water. Any large, complex, widely-distributed system has such vulnerabilities, and any such system is virtually impossible to defend. Winds of Change has an article listing several such systems and linking to analyses well worth reading. They also link to an article which has a quote which sums up the problem:

As they do not see, behind the benefits of civilisation, marvels of invention and construction which can only be maintained by great effort and foresight, they imagine that their role is limited to demanding these benefits peremptorily, as if they were natural rights. - Jose Ortega y Gasset from The Revolt of the Masses

Actually, though, it is possible to build complex, widely-distributed systems which are capable of withstanding terrorist attacks, or even nuclear attacks. In fact, the Internet was designed to survive and retain some capability during a nuclear attack. It should be noted that the Internet was originally known as ARPAnet, and was created by the same agency that thought up the idea of a futures market for predicting terrorist attacks.

The way that the Internet was intended to work is that each network would be connected to multiple other networks, and the traffic would flow freely through all of the networks. This ensured that there were multiple paths for data to travel. If Dallas were offline, the packet would be automatically routed around Dallas. If the network segment between two points was overloaded, a more circuitous route would be taken to equalize the load. This model was abandoned, however, when companies took over the Internet to all practical purposes, and it was abandoned for two reasons: cost and security. You see, how do you explain to the boss that it's a good idea to route someone else's traffic through your network, and to let them do the same? Wouldn't it be better - cheaper and safer - to allow internal traffic out any connection, but not to allow outside traffic in unless its destination was inside the company itself? And if you filter the traffic through DMZs protected by firewalls, so much the better, because that makes it more difficult to have your systems hacked.

The problem is, though, that this dramatically reduces connectivity, because your traffic will only flow out through the connections you have to your providers, and along their networks to their destinations. And of course, it wasn't long before the backbone providers cut their costs by combining capacity into larger (usually shared) cables for long-distance hauls, and putting switching for several providers all in the same few locations, so that they could exchange traffic with each other in order to connect the whole Internet. As a result of the corporate actions to seal off their networks (effectively making themselves leaf nodes, even if they were leafs on multiple branches), and the backbone providers' actions to limit their costs and increase their interconnections with other backbone providers, I suspect I could eliminate about 75% of the US Internet connectivity by attacking just 2 to 4 NAPs. In fact, it might be possible to do most of this just by attacking MAE-East. There's nothing inherent in the technology which prevents us from adding the additional wire capacity, switching locations and routing to make the Internet impossible to take down except in a purely local sense. There are cost and control reasons that prevent us from doing it, though.

The electrical system has similar problems, as we've recently had demonstrated yet again. The energy distribution system has similar problems. The water system has similar problems, although they would be more difficult to fix, because of the limited sources of supply. This would require the government to focus on scalability and redundancy, allow for further decentralization of resource control and management, and offset the portion of the costs which would not be commercially recoverable (rather than mandating a hidden tax on businesses to comply with regulations). Sadly, the natural tendency of government is in the opposite direction.

For defending the people, though, the problem is somewhat different, because you cannot "add redundancy" in a meaningful sense. You must defend the population. The government is certainly doing a good job, as far as I can tell, going after the current and emerging terrorists, but it has not taken some critical steps to allow the population to defend itself. The government realizes that it cannot be everywhere - certainly that is a point that Secretary Rumsfeld has made more than once - but it has not taken the step to trusting the people to defend themselves, and encouraging them to do so.

And this is where the Bush administration has failed us in homeland defense. The administration is attempting to defend all of these systems by itself, and in general is doing so the way a government would: it is trying to increase controls and accountability, without concern for costs, scalability or redundancy. Worse, the government is actively interfering in a great many activities (mostly gun-related) that people could undertake in their own defense. Since these kinds of actions are the kinds that would be naturally appealing to a conservative administration, this makes the situation doubly-damned.

I first saw the key to solving these problems stated by Glenn Reynolds:

So the snipers that paralyzed and terrorized the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area are caught now. But it's worth thinking about how they were caught. After repeatedly slipping through the fingers of law enforcement, John Muhammad and Lee Salvo were caught because leaked information about the suspects' automobile and license number was picked up by members of the public, one of whom spotted the car within hours and alerted the authorities - blocking the exit from the rest area with his own vehicle to make sure they didn't escape. "You can deputize a nation," said one news official after the fact.

Yes. With proper information, the public can act against terrorists - often, as we found on September 11, faster and more effectively than the authorities. The key, as Jim Henley noted, is to "make us a pack, not a herd."

The problem is that this goes against the very grain of intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, and so on. Within bureaucracies in general - and doubly within intelligence and law enforcement bureaucracies - information is power, and power isn't something you want to share. And if you deputize a nation, doesn't that make the official deputies just a little bit less special?

The problem with this mindset is that it's all about bureaucratic turf, and not about getting the job done. Otherwise we'd have learned the lesson long ago.

To coin a phrase: indeed.

The actions the government should be taking in homeland defense should be focused on giving individual citizens the power to defend themselves and their infrastructure.

For the infrastructure, excess capacity beyond what the market may support normally must be built in, and this capacity must be linked through a highly-redundant web of distribution channels. In some cases, such as with the water supply, the necessary work can be done entirely by the government, since it is governments (mostly local, in this case) which control the existing systems. In other cases, such as with the electrical systems, the government needs to give incentives for building in additional capacity and distribution channels to make the systems more robust.

For the population, the government needs to encourage the population to arm itself with handguns and long arms; to offer training in spotting bombs, recognizing vulnerabilities, emergency medical care, planning in advance for contingencies and the like; and to give us the information we need to understand and react to threats. Note: the government should not try to control or direct these activities, just to encourage them. If the government were to pick a one-size-fits-all solution, we'd be no better off than we are now.

For example, when the DC snipers were on the loose, I marvelled that we didn't have pairs of armed citizens on every street corner, with more patrolling the spaces between. At the very least, such an active defense would have made the snipers' jobs more difficult, and might have forced them out of the area entirely. We don't have a militia in this country any more, but we need one. A pack, not a herd.

UPDATE (8/19): Armed Liberal comments, and I have a brief response in the comments section there.

(And no, the National Guard is not a successor to the militia; it is a state-controlled reserve force for the Federal military, with additional duties for disaster relief.)

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The Enemies of Liberty

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Outside of a very few political junkies, few Americans are paying any attention to the Hutton Inquiry. This is an inquiry in the UK into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly, after it was revealed that he was the likely source for a report on the BBC damning the Blair government for falsifying information in its justifications for war. It turns out that it is likely that the BBC "News" reporter, Andrew Gilligan, most likely wrote the story pretty much in advance, with the desired political tilt, then sought out someone to say something that included the words "Blair", "government", "dossier" and some version of imprecision.

This post at the Karmic Inquisition gives a good reason why this matters so much. I've said before that this is a four-way war: the Enlightenment West vs. the Post-Modernist West, against the Pan-Arab National Socialists vs. the Islamist Radicals. It is the battle within the West that Adam Sullivan's piece focuses on, and it is really an important facet to understand: there are those in the West who are the enemies of individual liberty, and they are in positions of great influence, and they want to win because they think they are in the right. If the Enlightenment West doesn't win against the Post-Modernist West, then it really doesn't matter whether the Post-Modernist West or either faction of the Arab/Islamist culture wins, because all of those routes lead to tyranny for the West - either the tyranny of dhimmitude, or of a mix of fascism and socialism, or of Orwell's 1984 regime.

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August 11, 2003

Well, That Figures

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You're Texas!

You aren't really much of your own person, but everyone around
you wishes you'd go away, so you might as well be independent.  You're
sort of loud-mouthed and abrasive, but you do have a fair amount of power.  You
like big trucks, big cattle, and big oil rigs.  And sometimes you really
smell.  But it's not all bad, you're big enough to have some soft spots
somewhere in all that redneck madness.

face="Times New Roman">Take the Country
Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

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It is Easier to be Evil

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Sean LaFreniere had a dream, and it's a dream with meaning, and the meaning is important.

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Viacom Sued for Bollixing up Star Trek

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OK, this is too funny not to draw attention to:

through its actions and inactions, Viacom has let the once
proud Star Trek franchise stagnate and decay. Viacom has released only
one "Star Trek" movie since entering into agreement
with Activision and has recently informed Activision it has no current
plans for further "Star Trek" films. Viacom also has
allowed two "Star Trek" television series to go off the air
and the remaining series suffers from weak ratings. Viacom also
frustrated Activision's efforts to coordinate the development and
marketing of its games with Viacom's development and marketing of
its new movies and television series.


The complaint goes on to state: "By failing and refusing to
continue to exploit and support the Star Trek franchise as it had
promised, Viacom has significantly diminished the value of Star Trek
licensing rights including the rights received by Activision."


(Hat tip: Tacitus)

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Canticle

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One amazing feature of the blogosphere is that there is a certain tendency for articles on different sites about different subjects to reinforce each other, bringing about a kind of an epiphany.

So today with Porphyrogenitus and Winds of Change. Joe Katzman at Winds of Change is discussing problems with evaluation of intelligence, and when to learn lessons.

There's a reason bureaucrats are seen as ass-coverers whose foremost priority is to ensure that they're never accountable for anything. It's because many bureaucrats really are ass-coverers whose overriding priority is to ensure that they're never accountable for anything. As a corollary, if things go wrong, support for the idea that you predicted it may be helpful in building your bureaucracy's importance at the expense of its rivals.

Porphyrogenitus is discussing the ideology of the Boomer generation as it applies to foreign policy, and how Gen-X (or whatever we're supposed to be called these days) differs.
There are things that need to be done, but in many cases the institutions that were built over previous generations to make pursuing the well-being of our society do not seem to be working. Lavishly funded and huge though they are, with complex bureaucratic boxes for all possible tasks and much duplication, they often seem irrelevant where they are not a positive obstacle and hindrance. Reshuffling the boxes, as in the creation of the Homeland Security Department, seems to make little difference. The problem seems to be less one of out-and-out incompetence but rather institutional inertia and misguided or misdirected priorities on the part of the people who staff these bodies, who have taken survival - both the survival of their institutional rice-bowl and of the society whose interests those institutions are supposed to advance - for granted.


For a variety of reasons, our generation does not take that for granted. The airy, idealistic slogans about how things can be solved peacefully with goodwill and mutual understanding and the like that so beguiled the generation prior to ours - the Boomers - cut no mustard with most of us, because so many of us have seen how badly these bromides have worked in our personal lives when foisted on us by our elders. Where they tended to concentrate on idealistic-seeming but impractical causes ("world peace via unilateral American disarmament" and the like) to be solved holistically through the application of a unified field theory political ideology, we have tended to be more practical. Many older Americans are willing to tolerate policies implemented by institutions that don't work, as long as those policies are ideologically (or "politically") correct, and value process (as in "peace process") over results - effectiveness and effect on people's lives are not the priority for them.


Whether or not the war should have been carried to Iraq often seems less important to them than whether a procedure fitting an abstract and generally vaguely defined "multilateralism was followed regardless of results or whether or not doing so would achieve our goals. The debate in the aftermath among primarily "Boomer" politicians is the same - revolving around whether we have gotten "legitimization" from the UN or other international bodies of kleptocrats and thugogracies where Libya and Syria preside over legitimizing what is and isn't a Human Rights violation - and arguing we should involve them further because this would fit their ideological vision. Concern over how involving those who oppose our goals and seek to achieve ends at cross-purposes with ours would affect our ability to achieve what we need to, not only for ourselves but for the people of Iraq for example, is secondary - where it is something they consider at all. This is why the same people can complain about how things are going in Afghanistan, where their "international community" is in charge and the UN is overseeing everything, and demand that the same model be applied in Iraq. The disconnect that we notice is invisible to them.

The connection to earlier posts is evident in this regard: for some the ideal vision of having the "international community" voting on where and how we can fight the war that was thrust upon us, having them determine where we cannot (Iraq) and where we must (Liberia) send our young men is more important than whether this is an effective method, and the question of how those they want to involve in these processes might abuse the "say" they want to give them is unimportant and uninteresting. They will let others deal with the consequences and complications of implementing their vision, and they will accept none of the responsibility for the difficulties that result. For them, idealism (of a certain sort) is combined not with accountability, but with inaccountability. Theory, as usual for them, trumps practicality and empirical reality - if the world doesn't fit the theory, it is the world that is flawed, not the theory, and we must change to fit their vision, consequences be damned - or, rather, left for others to clean up.

The War on Terror is the first crisis the Boomers have faced. Their parents fought and won the Cold War, and suffered the consequences of Viet Nam and Watergate. The Boomers sat on the sidelines theorizing, and cheering on ideological ideals without any sense of personal responsibility. Bill Clinton in many ways was the avatar of personal irresponsibility - nihilism made manifest. Now that the crisis is upon the Boomers, the instinctive habit of many is to return to their youth, and shift responsibilities once more to the grownups. Sadly, the real grownups are not in the international community, but in the generation younger than the Boomers.

On the side of a hill in the deep forest green, Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown blankets and bedclothes The child of the mountain sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves
Washes the grave with silvery tears.
A soldier cleans and polishes his gun,
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions.
Generals order their soldiers to kill
And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten.

Perhaps the War on Terror will inspire the Boomers to remember the causes they once ostensibly championed, or perhaps it will show that they really are and were an empty and hollow generation. Either way, their test of leadership has come, and there is no way they can escape the crucible. The buck stops now, and it stops in the hands of the Boomers.

UPDATE: And just in time, courtesy of The Noble Pundit, are the lyrics to a song I'd forgotten, which pretty much sums up the Boomer tendency I was referring to.

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August 10, 2003

A Nice Fisking

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Ryan at Tasty Manatees is taking apart a recent opinion piece by Madeleine Albright.

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The Need for a New Constitution

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The purpose of the Constitution is given in the Declaration of Independence:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [protection of natural rights], 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.

As this post from Zenpundit points out, there is a significant proportion of the American population that no longer believes in the Constitution, and this comes from both the Left and the Right. Jesse Jackson, Jr. illustrates one pole, while those Republicans who would happily amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage or flag burning, or to make Christianity the official religion of the US, illustrate the other. Even the Supreme Court is getting in on the rewriting, with decisions like Grutter, which held that it's OK to violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution, but only for a while. (One wonders if, at the end of Justice O'Connor's posited time period, if the underlying goal of the university's discrimination has not been achieved, would the Justice then support extending the deadline yet further?)

I really like our Constitution as is, but I suspect that I am in the minority. The reality is, we have not actually been following large portions of the Constitution since the 1930's. The Federal government has been increasingly becoming intrusive on private Liberties, and the States have increasingly been becoming puppets of Federal laws and regulations. (Hence, a State may pass a medical marijuana law, but not prevent the enforcement of Federal regulations banning the use of marijuana.) The combination of redistribution of income (both to individuals via various welfare programs, and to States using mechanisms such as highway funding) and the removal of limits to Federal power (via doctrines such as "interstate commerce refers to anything that happens that might effect the economy" and "the government has a compelling interest to do anything it says it has a compelling interest to do" and "a limited time means any time which is not actually infinite, up to and including 3 billion years" and so on and so on).

It is clear to me that, no matter how much I hate the idea, it is time for the States to invoke their authority under Article V and call a Convention for the purpose of rewriting the Constitution. It is far better for us to have a mediocre Constitution that we actually follow, than an excellent Constitution which we ignore at our leisure.

UPDATE (8/5): ZenPundit comments.

Also, Chris Noble disagrees. I suspect that Chris and I see the Constitution in very similar terms. I, too, believe that we should live up to the Constitution's ideals. I'm not certain that a reconstitution would not live up to those ideals. (OK, if that doesn't mark me as an optimist, nothing will.)

I guess my real hope is that we will rediscover, after arguing through the issues, that we really want to be closer to the spirit of the original Constitution than to today's interpretations (many of which have been arrived at either by narrow agreement, or even over the heads of the people as a whole). I think that this could be achieved, if the standard was set that any Constitution had to pass a 2/3 vote to be reported out of Convention, as well as the requirement to be accepted by the States, presumably via referenda. (I don't think it would be politically possible for most States to address the issue just in their legislatures.)

Even if we ended up rejecting the new Constitution, and staying with the current one, the debate would add immensely to our public life. If we did get a new Constitution, it would almost certainly not contain any truly contentious statements, as these would get washed out between the supermajority requirements in the Convention and the ratification process. Those issues would be thrown back into political play, with the new balance of power (presumably more explicitly tilted towards central government) significantly changing the debate. Again, this would be good for our public life.

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Against Freedom

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Porphyrogenitus takes a look at a Financial Times article. There are two philosophies fighting it out in the West right now: the Enlightenment ideals that underly the Anglosphere, and the Socialist ideal that underlies the EU. This article is an example of the philosophy underlying elite European and American Leftist ideology, and it can be summed up by the fact that the article places the word freedom in scare quotes.

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Philanthropy?

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The Democrats are constantly claiming to represent the common man, like multibillionaire Geore Soros, who intends to put $10 million into a group working to defeat President Bush next year. Clearly, the definition of "philanthropy" has changed from my previous understanding.

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Pundit, thy Name is Arrogance

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In the interests of providing as much embarassment as possible to rude and unthinking assholes, I link to this. It's interesting that Mr. Fumento feels so insecure that he has to insult a blogger for disagreeing with him, and that he must appeal to authority based on his title and where he was published (as opposed to, say, arguing the merits). If Rich is so insignificant, then why does Mr. Fumento feel the need to attack him for disagreeing? How educational.

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Government School Idiocy

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If you have a strong stomach - and preferably if you don't have kids in school, so that your head doesn't explode - read some of these examples of school idiocy and dangerousness. My personal "favorite" has to be the kid who got suspended for having a prop for a school play (a broomstick painted black to simulate a musket).

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Michael Totten

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One of the amazing things about the blogosphere is how much great commentary and analysis one can get, and from how many angles. Michael J Totten's site is one of my favorites. If you don't already read his blog, you should start now. Here are a few of his recent posts that are really worth reading.

Blaming America First takes on - and takes down - an article by Jessica Stern in the NY Times. Stern's premise is that the US is responsible for everything, and Totten's response is a wonderful example of logical thinking, and a basis for much better analysis than the Times itself seems to be able to generate these days.

Right-Wing Terror Apologism similarly (but more concisely) takes on the frequently over-the-top Emperor Misha for slapping at the UN in the wake of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq.

Unhinged in Paris looks at how Europeans are blaming the US for the European heat wave.

Target: UN, about the bombing of the UN headquarters, is most notable for the comments on the post. The ability to spark this kind of discussion is, for me, one of the great attractions of Totten's blog.

Go, read.

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And He is Us

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I stopped reading Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler a few weeks ago, and removed Misha from my blogroll, because while I frequently agree with the underlying sentiments, I could not keep reading the bitter, over-the-top rhetoric any more. As a result, I missed this post. Michael Totten took it on, and that was my trigger for lauding of Michael Totten's site as an example of the richness of the blogosphere.

Michael Totten's comments, and then reading Misha's post, had gotten me thinking about writing a response, about how the extreme right and the extreme left are tending together in many ways, and how this is now dragging in the far edges of the center right and center left, who should be aiming not for the further edges, but for the center. I had not gotten the post fully firmed up in my mind, however, by the time that Joe Katzman wrote this. Thanks, Joe, for your words and your humanity.

UPDATE (8/23): Misha steps up and corrects himself. It takes a big man to admit he was wrong, and Misha qualifies.

Yes, I meant it as a joke, and I was absolutely convinced that that had been made clear. Well... It looks like it hadn't, and I regret that.

Yes, I, because I was the one who wrote it, not you, not my upbringing, not the school bully who stole my lunch once (ONCE!) in the 2nd grade, but me.

So this time, I'm going to make it so clear that even the most dimwitted of Idiotarian retards have no excuse for not understanding it. If they choose not to, which I'm willing to bet a small fortune that they will, then so be it, I can't help that, nor do I give a flying rat's fart in an F-5:

What was done at the UN building should, if there's anybody up there listening to my prayers, get the ragheaded motherfucking sons of malformed goats and bitches hunted down like the fucking rabid dogs that they are and killed, preferably extremely slowly, but I'll settle for dead if that's the best that I can get.

I've said that already, you know. Terrorism is wrong and its only reward should be death.

But it's also wrong to say things that sound like an excuse for terrorism, even if you hate the scumsucking bastards that get hit and even if that's not what you mean to say.

And, and this I thought was obvious already, I sure didn't mean to express any support for any of those goat molesting sand lice. I thought it was obvious but, with a little help from my friends, I've come to realize that it could look like it. And you're the natives here, so I'll have to take your word for it.

What this means is that I blew it with that post. Well, I blew it with respect to some of you, but that's bad enough as far as I'm concerned. I'm trying to communicate here and if what I think I say doesn't register the same on the receiving end of my target audience, then I've failed. But that's why I'm the Emperor and not "Pope Misha I", I get to screw the pooch from time to time.

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August 9, 2003

Stupid People

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Michael Totten has a lot of quotes from really stupid people. Or, at least, stupid quotes from a lot of people. My personal favorite has to be:

As for you, the American people, you must start to worry that the performance of your military does not start to give ideas to your southern neighbors. If they continue to perform like they are doing in Iraq , then I for one believe the Mexican Army is a serious threat to your national integrity.

Saudi Prince Amr Muhammad Al-Faysal, Arab News


Um, yeah. Yeah, we should be worried about the Mexican military.

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An it Harm None

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Do humans have the right to judge other the morality of other humans? If they do, do those sitting in judgement have the right to believe others should die for immoral acts or intents or beliefs or unknowing complicity or group affiliations, and by extension the right to celebrate the deaths of those others, or at least to not deplore the outright murder of those they feel are morally unforgivable?

There are no movements or philosophies or theologies that I am aware of that, as a practical matter, deny humans the power of moral judgement over others. Even among Christians, where there is a sound theological basis for such a view, there is no mainstream movement that I can find which argues that humans do not have the right to make moral judgements about others.

There are certainly those - I believe the Quakers qualify, for example - who believe that any deliberate taking of human life is morally wrong. Those people, I suspect, are few and far between, and can be separated out in that they would not - given a gun and an easy shot at Adolf Hitler, Iosef Stalin, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Bill Gates, J. Paul Getty, Richard Nixon, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, Christopher Columbus, Bill Clinton, or Ronald Reagan - kill any of them, and in fact would attempt to prevent others from doing so. There are very, very few people in that mold.

So the question becomes, if you believe that humans have a right to make moral judgements, and that some people are so beyond redemption that they must be killed, what makes it reasonable to kill another person? I suspect that most people would agree that the commission of sufficiently immoral acts - genocide, mass murder of political opponents, oppression of the masses, waging wars of aggression on other countries, murdering and eating children, killing people for fun, or whatever your personal moral code finds unforgivable - makes the killing of the actor reasonable.

There are a smaller number, but still a sizeable number, who believe that the intent to commit a morally unforgivable act is sufficient reason to work for the death of the one who so intends. For example, would you kill Hitler in 1937, to prevent the Holocaust, if you could? (For those who are fans of Hitler, insert any other name and intended future act.) I suspect most people would say that it is reasonable to kill another not as justice for a past act, but to prevent a future act.

The number of people, though, who would kill someone for their beliefs alone, is rather smaller. Certainly, some would say, merely being a Fascist, or a Communist, or an Islamist, or a Conservative or what have you, is sufficient reason to be killed. But not many would say that - or at least, not many would go so far as to say that belief alone is sufficient reason to be killed.

Very few would likely agree that unknowing complicity - indirect causation - is sufficient reason to kill. For example, even if you would kill Hitler in 1937, would you kill Hitler's father when he was a child? How many generations back would you go?

Most imcomprehensible to me, though, are those who would kill any Democrat, or Republican, or Muslim, or Jew, or American, or Catholic, or furrier, or meat plant operator, or Negro, or Caucasian, or rich person, or man, or woman, or homosexual, or UN worker, merely for their membership in that group. There is such a long line between saying, "some in group X act immorally ostensibly out of membership in the group, which reflects badly on the group," and saying "some in group X act immorally ostensibly out of membership in the group, and therefore any person in the group is culpable for those actions and is thus a legitimate target for killing."

That is why Trent Telenko and M. Simon (see the comments) have lost me over the UN bombing. I think that the UN is a deeply unprincipled organization - by design - and that in any such organization there are those who would take advantage of their opportunities for personal or political gain. Indeed, some in the UN and its associated NGOs have been complicit in acts which are beyond my moral limits of tolerance - genocide, tyranny, murder, rape, terrorism, slavery and more. That this is so, while the UN nevertheless fails in its primary mission (ensuring international peace) in the aftermath of the cold war, is a fine reason to withdraw from the UN, argue for its disbandment, and in every way refuse to support it. It is not a reason to cheer when a truck bomb demolishes a UN headquarters, killing a large number of people, most of whom probably had no connection to support for terrorism except for the extraordinarily tenuous bonds of membership in the class "UN workers."

If you argue that September 11, or the bombings in Israel, or similar acts are unforgivable, because the victims - or the majority of them - were innocent, then you cannot cheer for the death of innocent UN workers and be morally consistent.

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August 1, 2003

Waste of Perfectly Good Oxygen

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Norman Geras points out a question to and answer by Jaques Derrida. To sum up, Derrida believes that merely calling the date "September 11", rather than "le 11 septembre", suggests that "something" happened which "we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way" except "international terrorism" which is of course a completely socially constructed concept, and the event is "like an intuition without concept".

To sum up the summary, only an "intellectual" could believe something this stupid.

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I'm Sick, Eh?

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Porphyrogenitus is having fun with Canada. A lot of the points are about how difficult it is to get good health care in Canada, and how many Canadians come to the US for treatment. This reminded me of an event that happened before I stayed in Canada for a while.

In southern Florida, many Canadians apparently combine vacationing with getting health care, and so there are some clinics which not only specialize in treating Canadians, but do so on the Canadian national healthcare plan. Not knowing this at the time, while visiting my wife's parents, we drove past a building labelled "Canadian Health Care." After the initial consternation, my wife's comment:

"I'm sick, eh?"

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