« May 2005 | Main | July 2005 »

June 30, 2005

And the US is Deaf on Foreign Policy?

So what are the odds that having the new president of Iran being one of the lead hostage takers at the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 will be good for American-Iranian relations? RandomPrecise, targeted bombing has moved up on my list of ways to deal with Iran, personally.

Posted by jeff at 11:39 AM | TrackBack

Supreme Choices

I'm with Jay Tea: I want the next two Supreme Court justices to be about as moderate - in the other direction - as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Then, it will be time to get some true centrists onto the Court. (For that matter, it will likely be time in another 8 years or so to change the parties all around in the executive and legislative, too, like diapers, and for the same reason.)

Posted by jeff at 10:52 AM | TrackBack

The Duty of the Living

Tigerhawk has a letter from a surgeon in Balad, Iraq, that must be read:

The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule. I think the third rule of war should be that those who have given their all for our freedom are never forgotten, and they are always honored.

I wish there was not a war, and I wish our young people did not have to fight and die. But I cannot wish away evil men like Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. These men are not wayward children who have gone astray; they are not great men who are simply misunderstood.

These are cold-blooded killers and they will kill you, me, and everyone we love and hold dear if we do not kill them first. You cannot reason with these people, you cannot negotiate with these people, and this war will not be over until they are dead. That is the ugly, awful, and brutal truth.

I wish the situation was different, but it is not. Americans have two choices. They can run from the threat, deny it exists, candy-coat it, debate it, and hope it goes away. And then, Americans will be fair game around the world and slaughtered by the thousands for the sheep they have become.

Our second choice is to crush these evil men where they live and for us to have the political will and courage to finish what we came over here to do.

It is the duty of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead.

Posted by jeff at 9:17 AM | TrackBack

June 29, 2005


I got this from Betsy. Absolutely spot-on brilliant.

Posted by jeff at 2:50 PM | TrackBack

Baby Steps

Captain Ed points to a NY Times article with some very good news about Iraq:

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani [] outlined a proposal that would scrap the system used in the January election....

Under the proposal, voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.

This is an excellent development, for a couple of reasons. The most important thing that this would do is to ensure that the central government could not simply weld its power base to one faction, and use that to dominate the rest of the country. Almost as important, it means that those who would boycott elections would diminish their influence with the politicians elected in their area, meaning that the insurgents and Ba'athist holdouts would not have the propaganda weapon of having no one really represent the Sunni, and at the same time would have little or no influence with the Sunni elected officials. Since the Ayatollah Sistani is the most powerful religious figure among the Iraqi Shi'a Muslim majority in Iraq, his proposal carries great weight, and is very likely to be adopted in some form.

This is a good sign that Iraq is moving to a Federal system of some sort, which is the only type of democratic governance yet shown to be capable of running a democratic country without trampling the rights of minorities into the dust. Perhaps some day, we'll move back in that direction ourselves.

On an unrelated note, though apparently not to the Times, why is it that there can be no story with any good news about Iraq that does not also include every bit of bad news that can be dredged up?

The violence has cut deeply into Iraqi society, with about 1,200 Iraqis and more than 75 American soldiers killed in the past two months. The attacks have taken on increasingly sectarian overtones, raising fears that Iraq could be headed toward civil war.

At least 10 Iraqis were killed and more than 36 wounded in attacks across Iraq in the past 24 hours.

A car bomb exploded late Sunday outside a barbershop in the New Baghdad district of the capital, killing the shop owner, a customer and a 4-year-old boy, an Interior Ministry official said. Barbershops have been singled out by Islamic attackers because they offer Western-style shaves and haircuts. On Monday, at least 4 Iraqis were killed and 29 wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in the same neighborhood.

Also on Monday, two American soldiers were killed when their Apache helicopter crashed about 11 a.m. near Taiji, a large air base northwest of Baghdad, said Master Sgt. Greg Kaufman, a military spokesman. It was the third loss of an American helicopter in about a month.

The military did not say what caused the crash. The Associated Press quoted an Iraqi witness as saying a rocket had hit it, and other witnesses heard heavy gunfire. Sergeant Kaufman could not confirm any of the details.

OK, certainly it's news about Iraq, but it is unrelated (or only incredibly tenuously related) to the lede of the story. It's as if stories about Chicago were written like this:
The City of Chicago let a new contract to firm X to polish the giant new mirrored bean in Millennium Park.

The Mayor, in speaking about the new contract, did not mention the murder of two homeless men on the South side of Chicago, the ongoing trucking scandal, police corruption, or the seemingly invincible hold on power by the Daley family which, our lawyers advise us, is completely and totally unrelated to any corruption you may or may not have heard about.

I mean, it's silly. Why is it that only in events where some good news might be afoot in the war - or in some other thing where the good news might benefit non-progressive Americans - that all sorts of unrelated bad news must be featured in every single story about the event? Second off-topic bit: did the decline of journalism begin when journalists stopped writing reports and began writing stories?

Because of the tendency of mainstream media articles to disappear, here is the entire text of the article:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 27 - Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric appeared to offer a major concession to the Sunni Arab minority on Monday when he indicated that he would support changes in the voting system that would probably give Sunnis more seats in the future parliament.

In a meeting with a group of Sunni and Shiite leaders, the cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, outlined a proposal that would scrap the system used in the January election, according to a secular Shiite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Yasiri, who was at the meeting. The election had a huge turnout by Shiites and Kurds but was mostly boycotted by Sunni Arabs.

Such a change would need to be written into Iraq's new constitution, which parliamentarians are drafting for an Aug. 15 deadline. Although there has been little public talk about what form elections might take under the constitution, Ayatollah Sistani has been highly influential in Iraq's nascent political system.

Under the proposal, voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.

Sunni Arabs welcomed news of the suggestion. "This should have been done from the beginning," said Saleh Mutlak, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni Arab political group that has pressed for a more active role in politics. "That election was wrong."

The January elections ended in a decisive victory for Shiite Arabs and Kurds, leaving just 17 seats for Sunni Arabs in the 275-seat National Assembly. Voting in largely Sunni areas was extremely low, depressed by threats from insurgent groups who opposed the election.

Iraqi and American officials say feelings of disenfranchisement among the Sunni Arabs, who ruled Iraq for decades, may be fueling the insurgency. The violence has cut deeply into Iraqi society, with about 1,200 Iraqis and more than 75 American soldiers killed in the past two months. The attacks have taken on increasingly sectarian overtones, raising fears that Iraq could be headed toward civil war.

At least 10 Iraqis were killed and more than 36 wounded in attacks across Iraq in the past 24 hours.

A car bomb exploded late Sunday outside a barbershop in the New Baghdad district of the capital, killing the shop owner, a customer and a 4-year-old boy, an Interior Ministry official said. Barbershops have been singled out by Islamic attackers because they offer Western-style shaves and haircuts. On Monday, at least 4 Iraqis were killed and 29 wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in the same neighborhood.

Also on Monday, two American soldiers were killed when their Apache helicopter crashed about 11 a.m. near Taiji, a large air base northwest of Baghdad, said Master Sgt. Greg Kaufman, a military spokesman. It was the third loss of an American helicopter in about a month.

The military did not say what caused the crash. The Associated Press quoted an Iraqi witness as saying a rocket had hit it, and other witnesses heard heavy gunfire. Sergeant Kaufman could not confirm any of the details.

Another American was killed Monday in central Baghdad while he helped Iraqi policemen investigate a burning car, the military said.

In a Pentagon briefing on Monday, the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., confirmed that American and Iraqi officials had been meeting with Sunni leaders in Iraq in hopes of defusing the insurgency and drawing their followers into the political process. General Casey denied that the meetings constituted negotiations, and said he was unaware of any direct contacts with insurgent fighters.

"They're discussions primarily aimed at bringing these Sunni leaders and the people they represent into the political process," he said at a briefing with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "But to characterize them as negotiations with insurgents about stopping the insurgency, we're not quite there yet."

Both General Casey and Mr. Rumsfeld have said there have not been any contacts with foreign fighters like the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be responsible for some of the most deadly suicide attacks in Iraq.

The statements by Ayatollah Sistani are the latest foray into Iraqi politics by the Shiite leader. Pressure from him was a major factor in establishing an accelerated timetable for the elections in January. That pace, however, largely dictated the election's countrywide system, because United Nations organizers considered it the simplest and quickest way to organize the vote.

When United Nations officials met with the ayatollah in March, he chastised them for choosing the system, and said he favored setting assembly seats aside district by district, a preference he reiterated Monday. Mr. Yasiri, the Shiite politician, said Ayatollah Sistani had characterized the January election as flawed.

In the past, the ayatollah has reserved his efforts to pushing for measures, like nationwide elections, that were likely to enhance the power of Iraq's Shiite majority. His endorsement of a new voting system seemed to be made out of concern for the delicacy of the current political situation here.

"He said there were a lot of mistakes," Mr. Yasiri said. "He said this election must be different than the old one. He said we prefer that all the people share in it."

In other news, Iraq's foreign minister under Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, in a videotape of his interrogation that was released Monday and described by Agence France-Presse, said Mr. Hussein had personally ordered the crackdown on a Shiite uprising in 1991 without consulting top aides. The testimony could help prosecutors build a case against Mr. Hussein for his trial.

Posted by jeff at 1:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Eminent Domain and the Ten Commandments

Leave it to Scrappleface to combine two of the most recent abominations of the Supreme Court.

Posted by Brian at 11:16 PM | TrackBack

The Lost Liberty Hotel

That's the proposed name of the hotel in the application filed to take over and develop the land owned by David Souter.

One question, when can I book my reservation?

(hat tip: Drudge)

Posted by Brian at 10:12 PM | TrackBack

Well, I'm Glad They Cleared That Up

So, the Supreme Court has issued rulings in two Ten Commandments cases. In a stunning act of lucid, well-reasoned logic, the Court has decided the Ten Commandments are acceptable in some cases, but not in others. What wisdom! Thank you, Supreme Court!

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that displaying the Ten Commandments on government property is constitutionally permissible in some cases but not in others.

Thank you for clearing that up!

(Justice Stephen) Breyer was the only justice to vote with the majority in both cases

Now we know who to thank for his consistency of thought.

The court said the key to whether a display is constitutional hinges on whether there is a religious purpose behind it. But the justices acknowledged that question would often be controversial.

Well, at least we have such a wise oligarchy to answer these questions. Who better, I tell you, to know what lies in the hearts of other men. All hail, the Supreme Court!

He (Justice Souter) said it was important to understand the Constitution's Establishment Clause

Well, we're in trouble now.

The rulings mean thousands of Ten Commandments displays around the nation will be validated if their primary purpose is to honor the nation's legal, rather than religious, traditions.

Again, I'm glad our nine Supreme unelected officials have this duty. Only they know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Or is that the Shadow?

Location also will be considered, with wide open lots more acceptable than schoolhouses filled with young students.

Good grief! Is there any point in asking where in the Constitution they found the case for this reasoning?

"It means we'll litigate cases one at a time for decades," said Douglas Laycock, a church-state expert at the University of Texas law school, noting the decisions provide little guidance beyond the specific facts of the cases. "The next case may depend on who the next justice is, unfortunately," he said.

Well, it apparently won't depend on the Constitution.

Breyer, who provided the fifth vote in the holding, did not join Rehnquist's opinion. As a result, his separate concurrence, concluding that the Texas display was predominantly nonreligious and thus constitutional because it sat in a vast park

It was constitutional because it sat in a vast park?!? What? No, seriously, WTF?

God help us all!

Posted by Brian at 1:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"Lost" And Found

Just to wet the appetite of "Lost" fans, check out Oceanic Air Flight 815's seating chart. Be sure to click on the infamous numbers in sequence.

Posted by Brian at 12:45 AM | TrackBack

June 27, 2005


I like music, but am less and less thrilled by what's getting airplay, especially in terms of new music. It seems as if only a few artists get airplay, and so much is being overlooked. So I was very happy to find GarageBand.com. This site has a ton of songs in almost every conceivable genre by many artists looking for an audience.

Here are some of the handful of songs I've stumbled across while perusing the site that I really like:

Defenseless - Rook

This is the first song I found at the site that I really liked. It's a hard rock/heavy metal song that really rocks.

Muse - Rook

I really like this band; they remind me a little of Evanescence. I wish they would come play down here in DFW.

Elusive Butterfly - Geoff Byrd

I dare you to listen to this catchy pop song and not smile, tap your feet, and/or dance to the music. This could be a hit if it got the chance.

Silver Plated - Geoff Byrd

Sounds like John Mayer. This is another pop song that seems like a sure-fire hit if given airplay. In fact if it was a John Mayer song, it would probably be on its way to #1.

Dragonfly - Universal Hall Pass

This is a really catchy new wave kind of song that I really like.

Why - Mandi Perkins

Close your eyes and within the first 15 seconds of listening to this song tell me it's not Natalie Merchant. That's what first caught my attention. This is another song that could be a radio hit.

Lucky - Better Off Dad

I love the voice of lead singer Jaimee Harris. Her voice is much more mature than her 15 years. She has major talent.

It Only Hurts - Better Off Dad

So Better Off Dad is going to be playing in a Wall Street oriented coffee shop called Standard and Pours here in Dallas next month. Maybe I'll take off early from work to see 'em live.

Whimper - Better Off Dad

Jaimee's vocals sound a bit like Amy Ray of Indigo Girls to me.

This is just some of what I've found, and I haven't really spent that much time there. If you like music and get some time, check it out.

Posted by Brian at 11:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

TSA Thoughts

I have hesitated mentioning that I work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for a variety of reasons, but too many things happen not to blog about them. So from now on I will begin blogging random thoughts I have about the job as events warrant.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding the TSA, please feel free to ask.

Posted by Brian at 11:10 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Catching Up

I've been busy lately and haven't been posting much, so it's time to catch up. Here are a few links to articles a week or two old that are too good not to mention if you haven't seen them.

First we have this interesting article on the huge advancements made in combat medicine and how it's making "the battlefield in Iraq one of the most survivable in the history of warfare."

Then we have Mark Steyn's take on the Dick Durbin controversy. Yes, it's a week old, but Mark Steyn is always worth the read.

Lastly, we have this brief post with links to several other interesting links about anti-gun protesters who are violating gun laws themselves (including the shooting and paralyzing of an innocent man in a quest for vengeance).

Posted by Brian at 10:59 PM | TrackBack

Last Plane Out

Jay Tea has a post on an exit strategy for Iraq, and how the best exit strategy is none at all.

[L]et's presume we do set a deadline for our withdrawal from Iraq. Immediately we give a HUGE boost to the terrorists' morale -- "all we have to do is hang on until December 2006 (for example), and we win by default!" The immediate result of a timetable for withdrawal will most likely be an immediate decrease in deaths, but that will be merely the calm before the storm, as they will be saving up and resting and re-grouping and re-arming for the civil war that will break out the instant the last American leaves Iraq.

But there's a far more compelling reason why setting an "exit strategy" or a "timetable for withdrawal" is such a bad idea: they don't work.

Yep, that's about the size of it. The thing is, the debate on whether or not we should have an exit strategy is meaningful only in its domestic political implications. The entire debate is merely a device the Democrats are using to attempt to undermine the Republicans in advance of 2006: they're setting up debating points for the mid-term elections. (Of course, they'd be quite happy to hit the jackpot and get us to withdraw, as the shame, malaise, resulting Iraqi civil war, lack of US ability to influence international events, and eventual massive attacks on the US could all be easily laid at Republican feet - which could be an electoral godsend for the Democrats for years to come. And they are already thinking about the domestic political implications, though Kevin Drum seems to think that they would be quite negative for the Democrats, and he is probably correct in the longer term.)

In practical terms, it doesn't matter unless the Democrats retake both the House and Senate in the mid-terms. Even if the Democrats won the next Presidential election, and assuming that the insurgency wasn't utterly defeated by then, a Democratic administration would not withdraw from Iraq, nor would it face much pressure to do so. The Democrats are not stupid, and the administration would recognize the disaster that withdrawal prior to victory would be. And since the advocates of withdrawal would trust a Democratic administration and would be deprived of Bush hatred as a motivator, they would not have to face large scale domestic political opposition based on being in Iraq (where problems could be blamed on Republicans, and successes claimed for Democrats).

The problem with the Democrats in Congress using withdrawal from Iraq as a political issue in this manner is that the message is not left in the United States. The enemy sees the debate, and the enemy sees weakness. This causes him to escalate his efforts, in an attempt to push the US into a panicked withdrawal, as we made from Viet Nam, Lebanon and Somalia. (The enemy's analysis of our character may be wildly off, but bin Laden did have a point about recent history.) Given that the enemy's only hope is to redo what Hizb'allah did with Israel - outlast us, followed by claiming that they drove us out when we do leave - it serves the enemy's purposes for American politicians to be calling for withdrawal before victory.

The Bush administration will not pull out prior to victory, and that victory is likely to be manifest prior to the next presidential election. No matter who wins in 2008, the US will be in Iraq until victory is assured. And for that reason, the only practical outcome of the debate is to get more Americans - and far more Iraqis - killed as the enemy escalates the violence to get the press coverage they pray (literally) will weaken our resolve enough for us to withdraw.

Withdrawal won't happen, but that doesn't bring back the dead.

Posted by jeff at 10:06 AM | TrackBack

June 26, 2005

Al Bean and Dinosaurs

Yesterday, we went to the Ft Worth Science and History Museum, along with some friends who are visiting from Maryland. At the entrance, there is a full-sized reproduction of an acrocanthosaurus, and inside is a great exhibit on Texas dinosaurs.

Griffin, Lachlan, Connor and Aidan about to be eaten by an acrocanthosaurus

From left to right are Griffin, Lachlan, Connor and Aidan.

There is also a dinosaur dig, with a large number of small fossils in the sand (a fantastic use of dig waste!) that the kids can take home with them, as well as buried reproductions of dinosaur (sauropod of some kind) bones that the kids can excavate.

Aidan and Lachlan excavate a dinosaur femur

We also got to see Alan Bean speak, in the course of a presentation to the city of Ft Worth (where CPT Bean grew up) of some items he took with him into space. He spoke about the need to take risks in the course of exploration, to accept losses and move on, and praised the troops in Iraq for their dedication and sacrifice. It was a short talk, but a good one.

Alan Bean speaking

We saw Jim Lovell a few years ago, in a longer speech (it was actually intended as a speech in and of itself, rather than a presentation). Both men are fascinating to listen to, and well worth seeing if you get the chance.

Then we came home, where some other friends joined us and we had dinner (grilled burgers, yum) and talked. So, in our little house we had twelve kids ranging from less than a year old up to 10 and a half. Loud, but fun.

More kids than you can shake a stick at
Posted by jeff at 1:27 PM | TrackBack


As you can see, we have a new blogger here at Caerdroia. CPT is an Army National Guard Captain of long standing, who will be posting here throughout his upcoming deployment (and hopefully after, hint hint).

Welcome to the blog, CPT.

Posted by jeff at 9:57 AM | TrackBack

June 25, 2005

New Blogger

If anybody was to ask me to describe myself I would say I was a good yankee Captain, from a long line of good yankee Captains. You will have to forgive me, Im new here and am looking for a good method to vent what Im sure will be one of the most frustrating and worthwhile events of my life. I have done a deployment or two and am not going to go again without good comment. You will get the chance to live it with me as it happens. I don't want to give anything away other than it should be a good read and I value any commentary. Tell me what you think, I need the feedback and you just might be contributing to your national security in a really new way. It would certainly give the armchair general a whole new meaning.

The Good Yankee CPT

Posted by CPT 4ever at 9:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 24, 2005

Correctable Flaws

It strikes me that there are two flaws which lead to a lot of unnecessary problems in the US. One is a flaw of libertarianism, and the other a flaw of the US legal system.

The libertarian flaw is its absolutism. More particularly, it's failure to recognize density. Let me back up a bit.

When a single person is alone in a vast wilderness, it is simply the case that anything they can do is theirs to do by right: an assertion of a right is after all nothing more than saying that by doing a thing, no one else can claim to be prevented from doing the same thing. (For example, if I say something offensive, it does not prevent another person from saying something else. If I use my property as I see fit, it does not prevent others from using their property as they see fit, and so on.)

Bring two people together, and conflicts begin to arise almost immediately. My claim to a particular item as my property is questionable as a matter of right: why is it mine and not the other person's? I have the right to express an opinion, but do I have the right to express an opinion on the street outside your house at 2am using a bullhorn? It becomes obvious that rights are limited to the extent that they are contestable on rational grounds, so much so that it is a cliché that "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose."

But libertarianism in general is blind to such conflicts, resorting to absolutism and only very vaguely defining the boundaries within which rights can be exercised. This probably - apparently - works fine in situations where the population density is low. If I'm at my Dad's house in the middle of the Ozarks, I can play music at any volume at any time and disturb no one but my parents. If I'm in an apartment in Chicago, playing music loudly at midnight is quite disturbing. Trust me: when I was in an apartment in Chicago, our neighbors one time were playing loud music at midnight; I was disturbed. What libertarian theory of property accounts for this? None of which I am aware. And it seems obvious that as density increases, rights must inevitably decrease if civil society is to be maintained.

So it seems to me that a needed advance in libertarian thought would be to define how rights are gained and lost based on the population density and other factors (association, familial bonds, etc), such that a consistent determination of rights can be made. It might actually be reasonable to deny rights in a city that would be beyond the pale in the country. This is not hypocrisy, but respect.

The second problem, the one of American law, is actually related. Our system of property rights is fundamentally broken. There is no concept of how property comes into existence (enclosure) or how it goes out of existence (abandonment). All property is assumed to be enclosed (at least since the frontier was closed in the early 1900s), and no property is ever considered to be abandoned. With the recent Supreme Court decision suggesting that "a limited time" is any time that is not actually infinite, no matter how long it might be, this has come to be a problem with intellectual as well as physical property.

Let's take some cases where a clear law on abandonment would serve a real societal purpose. The first that comes to mind is an abandoned building. Let's say that the owner of the building has, for some fixed period of time, not maintained the building, secured it, or even visited it. At some point, doesn't it simply make sense that the owner no longer maintains any interest in the property? And if that is so, why not allow squatters to claim the property and take title? It would certainly have the potential to help the problems of both homelessness and blight, as owners who gain no value from the property could be exchanged painlessly for owners who would find value. It might not be worth the money for a property owner to maintain a slum building, while it might be worthwhile to the homeless to have a place to live for the cost of their labor in maintaining it. But the law allows no such thing.

A second case is evident in copyrighted works. Let's say that a book is written, but after several years goes out of publication. Under current law, the copyright owner maintains rights for so long that the odds of such a work simply dropping into oblivion (because no copies survive long enough to enter the public domain) is quite high. Yet others might find value in maintaining the work, shifting it to new formats (such as digital reproductions) as they become available, and so on. As it is now, there is too much risk in doing so: the heir of the original copyright holder, long dead, could still sue you into oblivion if, for some reason, the abandoned work becomes profitable at some future time. This does not, as the Founders plainly meant, advance the sciences or arts in any meaningful way.

Why not create a law whereby intellectual property is abandoned if a nominal fee is not periodically paid to the government to maintain title to the work? It would increase the public domain dramatically, reduce the chances of works disappearing, and not diminish the real rights of intellectual property creators (if it's not worth, say, $1 every 20 years to maintain, you really don't derive any value from it anyway).

It seems to me that both of these problems are fixable - the property rules by simple lawmaking, the density problem by someone more clear-minded than I - and that both need to be fixed.

Posted by jeff at 11:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

No Excuse

Randy Cunningham is a war hero, a fine pilot who became America's first ace in Viet Nam, by shooting down three enemy aircraft in one day (he had downed two others earlier). The last of these kills was originally thought to be against "Col. Tomb", top Viet Namese ace with 13 kills (who apparently didn't actually exist), and was a very close-run battle. In fact, this last battle is one of the scenarios included in "Chuck Yeager's Air Combat" flight simulator, though there you have an advantage, because the simulated American F-4 has guns, which Cunningham's real F-4 did not. (Yes, that's correct, Randy Cunningham got in a low-speed dogfight with a more maneuverable enemy aircraft flown by an expert pilot, and he only had missiles to work with, and at that had fired off several in earlier combat on that mission, and beat him!)

All of that does not in the least excuse now-Representative Cunningham if he is indeed guilty of corruption.

(hat tip: My Pet Jawa)

Posted by jeff at 12:17 PM | TrackBack

Hate is Stronger Than Love in Some People

Big surprise: the European fringes - the hardcore Marxists, Maoists, fascists and the other assorted types you see driving the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist/anti-freedom movements - are funding the terrorists in Iraq.

Posted by jeff at 9:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

Bye Bye Private Property

In the ongoing obliteration of the written Constitution, the Supreme Court has rendered the 5th amendment meaningless. (More here) I haven't seen the actual decision and dissent yet, but it's clear from the articles that the Supreme Court has just decided that government can take your private property to give to another private person simply by declaring that this is "for the public good". Interestingly, while this decision goes with the previous decision on medical marijuana (that is, that activity conducted by one person entirely within one state and involving no exchange of value is "interstate commerce" because Congress says it is), the lineup of votes was somewhat different.

Here is what the fifth amendment says, by the way:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

So what the Supreme Court has just said is that the point I emphasized above serves to limit government only in that the government has to pay for the property - at a value it sets.

I believe that it is inevitable that people will, at some point soon, begin to resist the government in cases like this with armed force. A "rule of law" that doesn't protect individuals obligates them to protect themselves. It would be better to call a Constitutional convention, or to amend the Constitution to strictly limit the powers of government (by removing the ability of the Court to expansively interpret the Constitution to mean anything they want it to), but there is little apparent support for this course. Natural human frustration, then, will lead where it will, as it generally does.

UPDATE: More from Dale Franks, Glenn Reynolds (more here), David Bernstein, Kevin Aylward, Orin Kerr, Jay (Accidental Verbosity), Captain Ed, Will Collier and others.

On thinking more about this, there are two things I find even worse than the thought that our Constitution as written is meaningless: the Court just handed city officials everywhere the ultimate fundraising tool, because the opportunity for corruption inherent in city officials selling your property for campaign cash is unlimited; and we've tried in the West a system where the wealthy can simply expropriate land at need, reducing the non-wealthy to indentured tenants in fact if not in word - it's called feudalism, and it didn't work out too well, all things considered.

I have to hand it to the Supreme Court: in the past year they've managed to so debase the Constitution as to make me a supporter of the right of secession from the United States. I've certainly become convinced in fact of what I had mentioned often before in theory: we need a Constitutional Convention.

UPDATE (6/24): Lots more reaction to the Kelo decision here.

And as I noted yesterday, it's only a matter of time before the incursion of the State run up against someone like Francis Porretto.

UPDATE (6/24): I can't resist, sorry: this brings a whole new meaning to the "takings" clause. Good parody by My Pet Jawa.

Also, Steven Taylor at PoliBlog has a fine post on the topic:

In short: this radically increases the power of local governments and diminishes individual rights–indeed, gives local governments the power to seize the homes of private citizens because said government thinks it is a good idea.

I however, think it is a pretty bad idea

Posted by jeff at 11:36 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Final Arbiter

Jack Kelly of Irish Pennants, in an essay I otherwise agree with, says:

The second [Constitutional amendment that would provide a way to diminish the reach of activist judges] is to do what the Founding Fathers didn't, and establish a means for resolving disputes in Constitutional interpretation among the three separate, but equal branches of the federal government.

Judicial review is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. In his landmark decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall said it was implied by the Founders. But James Madison hotly disputed this, and Madison took part in writing the Constitution. Marshall did not.

Not providing a means for addressing disputes in constitutional interpretation was one of the (few) mistakes the Founders made, like the original method for selecting the vice president (the guy with the second highest total of electoral votes). There needs to be a power of judicial review. But the one unelected branch should not be able to run roughshod over the other two.

This is a fundamental mistake; the same mistake in fact, that the justices made in Marbury v. Madison: the meaning of the Constitution is not up to the government.

The reason that no final arbiter of Constitutional meaning is named in the Constitution itself is that, in a free Republic, every citizen is the arbiter of Constitutional meaning. If I, for example, am seated on a jury, and find the law with which the defendant is charged to be unconstitutional, it is my duty as a citizen to find the defendant not guilty. If I am a judge, and find the law under which a person is charged to be unconstitutional, it is my duty as a citizen to dismiss the case. If I am a police officer, who after all is merely charged with doing full time what all citizens are supposed to do opportunistically (that is, to enforce the laws duly set out under the authority of the appropriate governing documents that bind me), and I find that a law is unconstitutional, it is my duty as a citizen to not enforce that law. The same goes for a district attorney.

And this power works in reverse: if the Court attempts to strike down a law that is Constitutional, the President and Congress and every citizen should ignore the Court on that issue. (That option, obviously, is not available to the defendant in the case at issue, who is still bound by the decision of the Court. The key is to keep that decision from having broader effect.)

And what goes for any other citizen goes for the President: no matter what the Supreme Court says, the President should not enforce an unconstitutional law. And it goes for the Congress: unconstitutional acts by the President should be a case for impeachment. And it goes for the Courts: a power unconstitutionally granted the Court by law is still unconstitutional.

In fact, Marbury v Madison itself shows that the Court itself recognized this to some degree: the Court refused to use a power (to issue writs of mandamus) granted it by the Congress, when the Congress had no Constitutional authority to grant the Court that power. Had the Court stopped there, rather than arrogating the power to strike down as unconstitutional any law, rather than to prohibit the application of that law in cases that come before it, Marbury v Madison would have been a good precedent. As it is, it must be reigned in, but not by giving the government the exclusive control of the Constitution that Kelly's proposal would inevitably grant.

Posted by jeff at 9:51 AM | TrackBack

Local Warming

George Bush withdrew the US signature from the Kyoto Accord on global climate change, after the Senate previously had voted overwhelmingly against it.

Several years later, my air conditioner is broken, and the repairman failed, during the hottest Texas summer (predicted) in about 6 years.


Well, I think you know the answer to that!

Posted by jeff at 12:13 AM | TrackBack

MIT Blog Survey

I took the MIT blog survey. It was actually interesting (most surveys, to me, aren't). Anyway, I wasn't going to post about it, except I liked a couple of their icons:
Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Posted by jeff at 12:10 AM | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

That's About the Size of It

Bill Roggio lays out the likely consequences of withdrawing from Iraq without first beating the enemy. And note that, unlike the Left, he's not looking at domestic political consequences. And yet the Left anxiously wants us to pull out, primarily for domestic political reasons. Somehow, they never address what happens after. Talk about not planning for the aftermath...

Posted by jeff at 8:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Not Again!

The moment the idiots in the Republican party manage to pass a flag burning amendment, I will be booking a trip to Washington DC, where I will burn copies of the Constitution on the steps of the Capital. Go ahead, keep on amending.

Posted by jeff at 6:33 PM | TrackBack

Tick, Tick, Tick

Since we have decided that we are not fighting a war against Islam per se (a good decision), we are also being very careful to not go after jihadis who are not actively fighting us at the moment (a bad decision).

Let's just be very clear before I go on: I am not advocating civil violence; I'm making a prediction.

Given the tendencies of Americans, and given the actions of jihadis in America to misunderstand how Americans behave, and given that our government is not actively going after jihadis until they commit, or attempt to commit, acts of terrorism - given all of this, how long until vigilantes attempt to solve the problem? My guess is that the next major terrorist attack in the US will see outbreaks of real anti-Muslim violence in the US, and my other guess is that it won't be confined to the anti-American Muslims, but will target anyone who is Muslim - or Indian subcontinental for that matter. If the people don't see their government fixing a problem, they will fix it themselves, and mobs are not known for their restraint or their powers of discrimination.

Posted by jeff at 4:04 PM | TrackBack

Can I Question Their Patriotism Now?

And if not now, when?

UPDATE: How about now?

Posted by jeff at 2:22 PM | TrackBack

Doing Without the UN

Francis Porretto points to an over-the-top editorial about the possibility of the President using a recess appointment to appoint John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.

Frankly, I hope that the President doesn't use the recess appointment power for this. I certainly recognize his Constitutional right to do so. I certainly recognize that the Democrats are not remotely interested in being reasonable so long as they are in the minority (and wonder why the President didn't use the recess appointment power to appoint judges). I just think it would be, um, instructive to see how little difference it makes whether we even have an ambassador to the UN.

It wasn't always so. There was a time when the UN could have been expected to take concrete actions to do good things. That time is long past.

Posted by jeff at 10:42 AM | TrackBack

Guns in Society

Daniel Nexon at the Duck of Minerva disagrees with my claims that it is the right of the Zimbabwean people to be armed against their government and to resist it with force. Daniel's is an excellent post, and you should read it. However, I would like to note that the if one takes up arms in self-defense, it is not the defender who has created the "state of war", but the attacker. The defender has merely recognized the state exists and taken reasonable action to survive under those conditions.

The decision to defend one's self, loved ones and property is not the least problematic. It is the decision to take up arms (within the context of society) as an aggressive means that is problematic. This is why vigilantism is so worrisome: it is a sign that the citizens do not trust the rule of law on the matter at hand. And taking up vigilantism is problematic, because it means that you are acting outside the law. Even correct action outside the law can be corrosive to society, and should only be done in extreme circumstances.

The key is taking responsibility for one's actions within society.

But in the case where the government takes up arms against a subset of its people, it is certainly the people's right to defend themselves against that government. Otherwise, the entire founding basis of liberal political thought - that the government exists to serve the people - is worthless, and tyranny of a more or less benign nature (and no, you don't get to choose) is inevitable.

Posted by jeff at 10:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A Struggle for Power and Money

Winds of Change has a fine addition to their ongoing AAR/LL post.

Most immediately interesting to me is the bit about the media: this indicates to me that the military sees the non-embedded media as hostile-neutral at best, which fits with the behavior of the non-embedded media in Iraq in particular. This is a dangerous development, because the perception that the media embeds with the enemy will lead to us tracking the media to find the enemy, which will lead to a lot of journalists being caught in crossfire, or killed by enemy who think the journalists are leading the military to them.

Second most interesting to me is the involvement of non-Muslim terror groups in training. This is not entirely unexpected - criminals and terrorists and rogue regimes of all types work together all the time - but is the first time I've seen it explicitly reported. Also, note that some of the camps are over the border. As in Viet Nam, we are making the mistake of giving our enemy safe havens: this must end.

Third most interesting to me is the inefficiency of IEDs at killing American troops - 12000 attacks in one year did not net a large number of dead soldiers. An IED is a pretty safe attack to make, and has been a jihadi tool for a long time. (So has taping every attack. Before 9/11, I had seen some interesting footage of dozens of attacks in Chechnya using IEDs, sometimes followed up with small-unit assaults, on Russian troops.) Figuring out how to turn the tables on the enemy - that is, not just to avoid the IEDs or seal the area afterwards to prevent a full-scale ambush from developing, but to actually preempt the IED attacks by taking out the camera crews and trigger-pullers - would be a big win against the jihadis.

UPDATE: And Winds is on a roll today. Armed Liberal's The Cowboy War is a must-read. He nails exactly what's been bugging me about those who say they support the troops and the war while simultaneously denigrating everything done by the troops or in pursuit of the war as not good enough: compared to what. It's only in fantasy land that perfection is attainable, and yet for these guys, perfection is the norm, and any deviation from perfection is sufficient to make us as bad as the Nazis, Pol Pot, Stalin.

But the really sad part is that they think this way for purely partisan reasons. Look at Dick Durbin's words with President Bush in office:

I cannot and will not support President Bush's unilateralist, aggressive foreign policy of preemption. It is wrong. It was wrong when we voted on it in October of last year. It is wrong in November of this year.

as opposed to when Bill Clinton was President:
I call on those who question the motives of the president and his national security advisors to join with the rest of America in presenting a united front to our enemies abroad.

The men and women who are risking their lives in defense of our national and global security deserve nothing less.

UPDATE: Callimachus notices the same thing, this time comparing praktike with Molly Ivins. And here is the killer question that I think should be posed to the anti-war types, and with slight modification to the pro-war types as well:

Let's say the devil popped up from a burning Texas sagebrush and made Molly Ivins an offer: not a single American dies in Iraq from this day forth, and democracy takes root there, and Condoleezza Rice wins the presidency in 2008 and the Democratic Party sinks further into irrelevance. "Or," Old Nick smiles, with a twinkle in his eye, "the butcher's bill continues to mount, the American public reaches its tipping point, and your chicken-fried prose pushes them over it. Bush, Rummy and Cheney go to the Hague in the 'war criminals' docket. And you never see another Republican in the White House or a GOP majority in either branch of Congress for the rest of your life."

Answer carefully. (hat tip: The Glittering Eye)

Posted by jeff at 9:08 AM | TrackBack

Not My Week, Mechanically

So, first the air conditioner goes out, now that we're really into the heat wave. This was Monday night, and it won't get fixed until this afternoon. Sleep has been intermittent.

Then, this morning, the beater I bought to get across town to work decided that it would only shift into gear when the car was not running. Not sure yet why that is.


Posted by jeff at 8:46 AM | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

The Ends Justify What Now?

Jay Tea at Wizbang discusses circumstances under which attaining good ends might justify otherwise immoral means used in the attempt. This is very dangerous ground, because it's exactly the kind of reasoning that led to millions dead in the death camps of Communism: capitalists and reactionaries are holding up the good that comes from the Revolution, and must therefore be killed so that the good of the true just society that Communism brings about can be realized.

Jay Tea is not sliding down that slope; that is not my point. My point is that when you begin to use reasoning that has known dangerous ends, to which people have been proven to travel before, it is a good idea to set up limiting reasoning in the same breath. Rather than "the ends justify the means", a better formulation would be "actions that harm one person to save more than one person, or harm the guilty to save the innocent, are permissible". That way, you allow for the "lifeboat ethics" scenarios Jay Tea posits, while preventing the reasoning from being taken to an extreme it was never intended to reach.

Engineers deal with this kind of thing all the time: if you don't have a way of preventing a feedback loop, the radio blows up. Unfortunately, people don't tend to build in logical breaks, leading to reactions extreme on both ends. There are some who advocate actual torture, even in less than "lifeboat ethics" situations, and others who advocate against even detaining the enemy. Both positions are morally destitute and ethically worthless.

Posted by jeff at 1:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Free Advice

Per Transterrestrial Musings, we have a reported death from electoral trauma:

Alas the stolen election of 2000 and living with right-winged Americans finally brought him to his early demise. Stress from living in this unjust country brought about several heart attacks rendering him disabled.

Please allow me to offer my advice to any of you who feel trapped in an unjust country that steals elections away from your preferred candidate: move to a more just country, renounce your American citizenship, and find your inner peace. You've already decided that America isn't worth your life in other ways; don't let it take your life now.

Posted by jeff at 1:00 PM | TrackBack

More Evidence that we are Winning in Iraq

When Kofi Annan tries to claim credit for success in Iraq, it's a pretty good sign of two things: success is unmistakeable, and the UN had nothing to do with it. Interestingly, Annan is starting to sound like the military and the more hawkish bloggers who follow war events closely: "In a media-hungry age, visibility is often regarded as proof of success. But this does not necessarily hold true in Iraq. Even when, as with last week's agreement [bringing Sunnis into the process of writing the new Iraqi constitution], the results of our efforts are easily seen by all, the efforts themselves must be undertaken quietly and away from the cameras."

Of course, for the military, it's often the opposite: actions are taken in full view of the cameras, but the results are off-camera and largely not understood by a public and punditry that does not, by and large, understand the military or the nature of guerilla warfare.

Posted by jeff at 12:16 PM | TrackBack

June 20, 2005

Tell me you didn't see This Coming

The chickens released by Sen. Durbin, Amnesty International, and so on, and so on are coming home to roost. Big surprise.

Posted by jeff at 8:56 PM | TrackBack


Those who do not study history, or omit the military parts of it1, and who are not trained in warfare, generally miss a lot of the big characteristics, strategies, and determinants of war. It's not just the "little" things, like what particular equipment can and can't do, and how units are organized for different tasks, but big things, like the importance of morale, the inevitability of escalation, and the fact that the opponents aren't fighting the same war.

Aren't fighting the same war? Well, let me put it another way: aren't fighting for the same end state. It is, in fact, more uncommon for two belligerents to have the same conditions for victory than it is for them to have different conditions. For example, in the US Civil War, the North's objective was to reunify the nation, while the South's objective was to successfully separate from the North. So the condition for victory for the North was the defeat of the South; the South did not have to beat the North, just get the North to stop trying to beat it. Yet this is a case where the objectives are relatively similar - they flowed from the same choices of outcome. This is not always the case: sometimes the goals diverge markedly, such as the War of 1812, where our goal was to prevent British predation on our merchants, and the British goal was to defeat the French (for which aim the British needed seamen, which it got in part by preying on American merchants).

In the Terror Wars, our objectives started out markedly different from the enemy's: we sought to punish the terrorists for 9/11, and to destroy the terrorist organizations so that they wouldn't threaten us again; the enemy sought to kick us out of Saudi Arabia as part of their plan to restore the Caliphate. To them, we were a sideline, interesting mostly because of our support of the regimes they intended to bring down.

But while the enemy objectives have not changed, except that we are now in Iraq instead of in Saudi Arabia, our objectives have changed dramatically. As we came to realize that defeating the terrorists now would be meaningless, because the totalitarian fascist ideology that drives them would simply create new terror groups, our objective shifted to democratizing and modernizing the Middle East, so as to remove the ideology of jihad as a threat. This change in goals took place between the beginning of the build-up to war in Iraq and the replacement of General Garner - in fact I think that it was the replacement of General Garner that marked the acceptance within the administration that our long-term strategy must include democratizing the Middle East.

In other words, our goals have converged with our enemy's goals, and as a consequence, our objectives have become symmetrical: they seek to restore the Caliphate, and we seek to ensure conditions that would prevent the Caliphate from being established: representative government, economic prosperity, and a more realistic world-view. In order for the enemy to win, they must continue fighting - not necessarily effectively, just noticeably - until we withdraw. At that point, they claim victory and, greatly strengthened, proceed to attack the Arab governments in order to restore the Caliphate. In order for us to win, we must establish representative governments strong enough to resist the jihadis or we must destroy the jihadis and the funding and ideology-generation systems that create them (which effectively means destroying every Wahabi and Salafist mosque and imam, as well as the jihadis, so thoroughly that no one will be tempted to try preaching jihad out of fear for their lives). Since we aren't prepared to do the latter (yet), we must attempt the former.

What's very interesting is that this means that the primary determinants of the war are time and public will: so long as we are able to sustain the public will to simply not withdraw, we will eventually succeed in establishing representative governments in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. And it is here that we come to the third force in this war: the Western Left (and to a much lesser extent, the extreme right).

For these groups, their goal is to gain political power. At the moment, the balance of power in the US is highly in favor of the Republicans, which is not helpful to the Left. So how does the Left gain power? Well, certainly, the last time that there was a significant Leftward lurch electorally was after Viet Nam, where the Republicans - humiliated by a combination of Watergate and losing the war after a politically-forced withdrawal - lost heavily. And thus, from the Left's goals and history, we get their objectives: embarrass the Republicans, and force us to withdraw from Iraq. The combination of the two will (at least in the mind of the Left) return the Left to power.

Thus, the left's objectives have become congruent to the enemy's objectives: forcing the US to withdraw from Iraq, and in general to lose the Terror Wars, serves both the enemy's and the Left's purposes. This is why it seems that the Left is on the side of the enemy: they are working to the same midpoint. The Left seems to believe that it stops there, that the enemy will simply work on restoring the Caliphate, behead a bunch of other Muslims and who cares? and will happily mind their own business. How they can think this after 9/11 escapes me totally. There are a few other things they are missing as well about the probable consequences.

1No kidding: my college American history professor made very clear up front that we would not study any wars, because they weren't relevant to how people live, which is what's important about history. Ever since then, I've understood how we get people waving paper and declaring "Peace in our Time" - fantasy is so much less upsetting than reality.

Posted by jeff at 8:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Needs a Killin'

There was a case in Texas in, I think, the 1920's, where a jury let a man off for murder, because the murdered man "needed killin'". If that description ever fit anyone, it fit these morons. (hat tip: InstaPundit, who has links to more pictures and commentary)

In fact, were I seated on a jury, hearing the murder trial of, say, a family member who saw these signs, jumped out and started firing at the placard bearers, I'd have a hard time doing anything but letting them walk. Maybe applauding them, too.

Posted by jeff at 9:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 19, 2005


My sons presented me with a notebook this morning: whay we love dad [spelling goes uncorrected for today]. Each had drawn a picture, and written down why they love me.

Connor, age 9, drew a picture of me, hairless and fiendishly grinning as I choke a small child, with two other children running away, smiling for some reason. I am informed that in fact I was tickling the child, and chasing the others. My fourth is nowhere to be seen, a fact that apparently disturbed Griffin to no end. The text says:

he Plays lots of Games with us he lovse us and works hard to Get the mony to feed us and Get toys for us and buys books for us and Givs us mony to do what ever we want with and takes us to fun Places.

Clearly, I need to explain the concept of allowance again.

Aidan, age 7, drew a frame within which it says "i love you dad". His text was:

He plays lots of games with us. He chases us. He loves us.

Griffin, or as he would say it, Frippen, age 4, refused to draw a picture. Instead, my wife wrote for him why he loves me: "He kills dinosaurs." Apparently, some time later, he added "with his fork", but the text does not reflect this, so it must remain apocryphal.

Lachlan, age 3, was the most colorful with his picture, a cross between Seurat and Pollack, and told my wife, "He's big. He's this tall. I love him 'cause I do."

Of all the titles I've been graced with at one time or another, the best ever has to be "Daddy". And I love my boys, too, just 'cause I do.

Posted by jeff at 5:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

More Analysis of the War in Iraq

Grim provides a fine essay on the situation in Iraq, and the difference the choice of battlefield makes strategically.

Posted by jeff at 11:33 AM | TrackBack

June 18, 2005

The Avoidable Genocide

We are coming to a dangerous crossroads. In America in particular, increasing numbers of people have tired of being at war. The steady dribble of casualties - small in historical terms - has been blown all out of proportion by the domestic forces of defeatism - particularly odious are those who would be fine with America winning, so long as the Republicans didn't get credit. The normal, slow course of counter-insurgency, the whining of the domestic Left, the self-seeking politicians, and the receding sense of direct threat to America combine to weary those who simply don't focus much on anything except direct threats to them. Much of the American public is being lulled. This QandO analysis of a Victor Davis Hansen essay makes the essential dichotomy clear.

Ironically, this is a byproduct not of failure, but of success: we have done such a good job of disrupting the large terrorist organizations and eating alive the core of the jihadi movement, who come to Iraq to fight our soldiers rather than to America to attack our civilians, that the immediacy of the threat has been reduced. So long as we continue to aggressively pursue the fight. Because when we stop, give up, go home and once more doze in contemplation of the end of history.

The ability of the United States to make war depends on our willingness to make war. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the only way for any country at present to actually defeat the United States in war is to make us weary of the fight, give up and go home. And our desire to minimize the destructiveness of war, on both our own people and enemy civilians (and increasingly, even on enemy combatants), mitigates against our fighting the kind of war we can win swiftly. We could end the insurgency in Iraq in 3 months, were we willing to destroy the Sunni Arab population of Iraq in order to do so; we are not.

But there is a serious, often unstated problem with giving up. Once we leave the field, we see ourselves as our enemy sees us: defeated. And as the aftermath of Viet Nam showed, such a defeat makes further action politically impossible. In the 1970s, we could not have defended any place but Europe and maybe Japan from attack, because politically we would have prevented our government from doing so. Even in the 1980s, there was a serious, strong, determined and sustained movement to prevent the United States from protecting Europe! Younger readers may not remember, but there was in fact a serious effort to convince the United States to disarm unilaterally even up to the point that the Soviet Union dissolved.

And in the Middle East, today, such a mistake - giving up our ability to fight against a threat - would be fatal. Not to us - well, not to us collectively, anyway - but to the Arab world. Consider the consequences:

If the United States pulls the threat of military engagement from the Middle East, Iraq would pretty much immediately fall into chaos. Conventional invasions from Syria and Iran are possible, but more likely would be a full-scale civil war, culminating in either a dictatorship of the Sunnis or a Shia theocracy similar to neighboring Iran. In the process, we would have lost every single base that the United States has in the region: as an untrustworthy ally, those that were not conquered would be closed by our former friends, now eager to distance themselves from us as far and fast as possible. (Read up on what happened after the fall of the Shah in the late 1970s.) This would further complicate any American attempts to use force in the region.

With the US not engaged, and with the world focused on Iraq's slide into chaos, the likelihood of Iran developing weapons within five years approaches certainty. Pakistan might even decide, in order to prevent Musharraf's fall, to open sell nuclear weapons to Muslim states. This means that with every year that passes, with democracies and Western leaning tyrannies in the Middle East falling in succession to the Islamists, the realization of a caliphate becomes progressively more likely. Even without that, there is still the problem of two or more nuclear armed states with a history of supporting terrorism.

We probably wouldn't be the first target of nuclear terrorism; that would more likely be Israel. After all, with the United States removed from the region, paralyzed with self-doubt and recriminations, Israel is both a bigger threat and a bigger opportunity.

Funny thing about Israel: Israel has nuclear weapons, too. A lot of them. Enough to destroy every Arab population center of any reasonable size. And if Tel Aviv were destroyed, what possible reason could Israel have to restrain from destroying every Arab population center of any reasonable size? After all, Israel's very existence would be in doubt. They take "never again" more seriously than does the rest of the world.

But let's say that the Arabs manage to destroy Israel so completely that only a few Arab cities can be obliterated. This would throw the West into further anguish, as after all Israel is an American ally, and we should have done "something" (never actually specified) to prevent this outcome. (Those who suggest, at that point, that withdrawing from Iraq was the cause of this situation will be shouted down, vilified.) And now the Arabs would have a real claim on victimhood - because after all, it wasn't those innocent civilians that destroyed the Israeli cities, and it wasn't they who marched in and slaughtered the Jews wherever they found them. So again the West would likely not act.

Having barely dodged utter destruction would not make nearly the impression on the Muslim world that their victory would: yes, they lost a few million people, but the state of Israel was destroyed; the hated Jews were slaughtered. Surely Allah had brought this blessing. Surely Allah would allow the Muslims to retake Andalusia (Spain), the Balkans, and how about the rest of Europe while we're at it?

Now maybe the French or the British would react, and maybe they wouldn't. How far they would go is anyone's guess. Let's just assume that the French allow themselves to fall under Muslim rule, along with the rest of continental Europe, and the British kicked out the more troublesome Muslim immigrants and formed a closer alliance with the United States. This is pretty much a best-case outcome for the jihadis, by the way. Now, they have a larger and more sophisticated nuclear arsenal (France's), and a larger population and resource base.

Would they be satisfied? Well, their doctrine, endlessly restated, is that the Muslim caliphate must extend over the entire world. But the US would still stand, and in fact we'd be the only enemy of note besides China and India that the Muslims would have to worry about. The order isn't important: neither China nor the US nor India would suffer a nuclear attack without responding, and neither country would give up its identity. As such, whichever major enemy was the next target of jihadism (my guess would be India) would be quite likely to utterly destroy the Arab world.

And fundamentally, that is the problem with withdrawal: the enemy doesn't recognize an end to the war short of their complete control of the entire planet. But there are forces in the world that will withdraw and withdraw - until they reach a certain point. And one of those forces - likely Israel, potentially France (not very likely), and certainly India, China or the US - would eventually be pushed against the wall where it is very clearly "us or them". None of these civilizations, except possibly France, would choose "them."

The only way to be sure that there will be a Muslim world in 50 years is to defeat, now, the elements within Islam that are incapable of compromise or coexistence. And in the end, it will less likely be us, than our children, who will be around to face that end, if we fail now.

Posted by jeff at 9:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Two Posts From the Dignified Rant

Brian Dunn has two excellent posts up, one on our center of gravity and another discussing troop levels in Iraq. Brian is one of the most underrated bloggers out there in terms of his ability to analyze the war, and these posts certainly deserve some time and consideration.

Posted by jeff at 11:50 AM | TrackBack

June 17, 2005

Kudos to Howard Dean (Yes, Howard Dean)!

While I am more than happy to criticize Democrats for saying stupid things, it's important to give them credit when they say or do the right thing.

A handful of people at Democratic National Headquarters distributed material critical of Israel during a public forum questioning the Bush administration's Iraq policy, drawing an angry response and charges of anti-Semitism from party chairman Howard Dean on Friday.

"We disavow the anti-Semitic literature, and the Democratic National Committee stands in absolute disagreement with and condemns the allegations," Dean said in a statement posted on the DNC Web site.


According to Dean, some material distributed within the DNC conference room implied that Israel was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

One witness, former intelligence analyst Ray McGovern, told Conyers and other House Democrats that the war was part of an effort to allow the United States and Israel to "dominate that part of the world," a statement Dean also condemned.

"As for any inferences that the United States went to war so Israel could 'dominate' the Middle East or that Israel was in any way behind the horrific September 11th attacks on America, let me say unequivocally that such statements are nothing but vile, anti-Semitic rhetoric," Dean said.

There is a segment of the left with a predilection for anti-Semitism, and many with great disdain for Israel in general. It's good to see Mr. Dean speaking out against it.

Posted by Brian at 11:24 PM | TrackBack


I had an idea this morning, and I figured I'd run it by everyone and see what you think. It seems to me that there are a huge number of stories in the media that cover important events, but that do so in a limited and biased way. On the other hand, there are millions of bloggers, many of whom critique what the media reports, and add additional material. There are also so many web resources like actual remarks from actual people who actually attach their name to what they say.

Do you guys think that there would be a market for re-reported stories? That is, say a week after a big story, getting several major accounts together, extracting the facts from the stories and discarding the cant and bias, incorporating the critiques and the additional facts/transcripts and producing a more balanced and complete and less biased account? Or would this be too little, too late, or would it just be duplicating what Pajamas Media intends to do?

Posted by jeff at 10:05 PM | TrackBack

Liberalism and Gnosticism

The doctor is in has a great comparison between contemporary liberalism and Gnosticism. Worth reading.

And if you don't believe the Left is thinking magically, think again. As a Wiccan, I recognize sympathetic magic when I see it.

UPDATE: Here is a great take on the events described in the above article.

Posted by jeff at 4:10 PM | TrackBack

The Fruits of Defeat

Here is the reason I read Kevin Drum, despite disagreeing with him on basic principles: he can reason himself through to a correct conclusion. I don't care about the consequences of war outcomes on electoral outcomes in the US, but I care deeply about the consequences of war outcomes on the country's safety and freedom. And in this case, withdrawal would be a disaster. Drum sees that, and while his focus is on what that would do to elections here (rather than, say, the destruction of military and civilian morale and the then-inevitable rise of nuclear terrorism), he at least has the clarity to acknowledge it.

One more nudge towards the edge, and Kevin will be able to see that deliberately undermining the war effort, as so many on the left and a few on the right do, brings many kinds of disaster in its wake, and should therefore as a matter of national interest not be done.

UPDATE: Chris asks in the comments:

Ok... so what, in your view, constitutes "deliberately undermining the war effort?" Is any kind of critique of the way the war has been carried out allowed? Who decides what those boundaries are?

Those are excellent questions. First, who decides? For the obvious cases (treason, sedition, espionage, etc.), the legislatures must make those decisions, and the courts must enforce them. For other cases I mention below, it should be up to each individual's conscience, both as to whether to undermine the war effort, and how to deal with those who do. Here's a list of some things that I consider to be "deliberately undermining the war effort", and what to do about them.


This is defined by the Constitution: "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court." This is a very limited definition in comparison to most countries prior to the US (and for that matter, in the more rabid fever swamps of the right wing - I'm looking at you, Ann Coulter). Note the requirement for an "overt Act". With that, there is no possibility of criticism, incitement or other verbal or printed words being treason. This does not mean that the United States has not faced treason in this war: we have, more than once.

What to do about treason? Make charges and put them in court. Any American citizen arrested anywhere in the world, and any non-citizen arrested in the United States while not committing an overt act of war, needs to be put before a judge. For traitors, the guidelines are pretty clear on what should happen. For non-citizens, the court should determine if the defendant could or could not be reasonably construed as an enemy combatant, and after that only executive authority (keeping in mind laws and treaties) has any bearing on such a person's treatment.


Sedition is "Conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state." Sedition is a step down from treason, and involves not conducting war against the government, but attempting to undermine the government (in particular, in the US, the Constitution and the institutions it creates). I don't believe that there is currently a sedition act in US law. There needs to be. Specifically, incitement to war against the United States, interference with military officers or troops in the lawful performance of their duties, invasion and occupation of military facilities, incitement to desertion and similar acts should be punishable by law. Short of that, though, they certainly fall under the category of "bad ideas", below.


Espionage is the unlawful giving of national security secrets to the enemy. In actual fact, we generally consider espionage to be the giving of any national security secrets to any foreign person or organization. This includes, but is not limited to, detailing the methods by which enemy prisoners are interrogated, which allows the enemy to come up with methods to resist such techniques; detailing the way in which captured enemy fighters are transported around the world, which helps the enemy to target those flights; and so forth. Even when it is journalists doing this, they should most assuredly be prosecuted (as should the leakers). Note that I did not include revealing the Abu Ghraib abuses in that list in any form; distasteful though the media frenzy over that was, that is not espionage but a bad idea (not the reporting; the frenzy).

Bad Ideas

In addition to the above, there are a number of things that are not crimes, but which help the enemy in major or minor ways. These are all matters of conscience, but people who want the US to actually, you know, win the war on terror, should refrain from these behaviors, and punish those who do not refrain (with professional censure, criticism, shunning, firing in certain cases, and so on).

These activities include trying to weaken border security, distributing enemy propaganda, execrable comparisons of US facilities to the worst labor and death camps; advocating cutting the pay of the troops (bad for morale); and so forth.

Bill Roggio has some more things to be avoided or embraced. While Bill's post focuses on the Democrats, I want to be clear that I don't give a damn about political identity, and there are people on the Right who are undermining the war effort as well.

And I should add that playing gotcha games on particular words, in an effort to embarrass political or military leaders, is maybe a bit unhelpful as well.

Posted by jeff at 2:53 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

There's a War On

I was thinking a few weeks ago that the United States is not really at war - not in the sense of an active engagement with a named enemy. We're not just not in a total war, as WWII or the Civil War, but also not in a war in which the majority of the people seem to realize, on a daily basis, that there are high stakes for which we (in the sense of our military, in any case) fighting and dying. But before I could put this in any coherent essay form in my head, Gerard Vanderleun beat me to it:

Over the decades since Vietnam, our media has evolved into a self-sustaining series of institutions that literally cannot see anything other than their internal elite reality. This would be benign if they did not also have the power to inflict it on others. The destruction of this power is the real pivot on which the political fights of the next decade will turn.

Unless we run out of time in which to entertain this cute little internal cultural and political squabbles. Unless, of course, many of us wake up one morning to find that there is, after all, a real war on -- one that can reach out and kill us at will.

In this manner, it is both tragic and yet hopeful, that our current war, in order to be really on, waits upon another September 11. For, it is clear now as it has been for sometime, that nothing absent another significant attack on the homeland will wake us from our media induced stupor.


So, in the final analysis, what will it take for America to wake up and to stay awake, and to finally and at last, "know there is a war on?"

Quite obviously and without a doubt, it will take thousands of dead American civilians, men, women and our children. They will die here on our soil. They will be your family and your friends and your neighbors.

That is precisely what it will take. Not one body more. Not one body less. And although our enemy will be at fault, we will have nobody but our own weak and fat souls to blame. After all, we won't be able to say we didn't see it coming this time.

I agree with Vanderleun that the Bush administration squandered the American will to fight that 9/11 awoke. This requires stoking; Americans are not naturally belligerent as a people (though our elected officials often are), and this has been President Bush's one massive failing. And, like Vanderleun, I fear that the only way to change the image of the war is to suffer another attack on the magnitude of 9/11, or worse. But I hope that, rather than being a "losing police action[]", we can win the war abroad before our will gives out and before we suffer another catastrophic attack on America.

Posted by jeff at 1:51 PM | TrackBack

"We are Americans, we rise above it"

The antidote to Dick (and I use that word prejudiciously, rather than because it's his name) Durbin's ranting and the Democrat partisan sycophantic support for this filth is to actually read what American soldiers write.

I know which side I'm on.

UPDATE: Let me be explicit, for those who tend to willfully misunderstand: Dick Durbin and his sycophantic partisans are not the enemy; they are spoiled bratty children who need to be sent to their room and ignored until they realize that the company of others is preferable to sulking alone.

UPDATE: By the way, if you really want to see the difference - and I don't particularly recommend it, as a tiny imagination should allow you to picture depravity - between how we treat prisoners and how the worst tyrants do, Rusty Shackleford provides. Compare the images here with the thought of a mishandled Koran, and you will see why I am so enraged at Durbin and the other Democrats who compare our actions with this - generally unfavorably.

Posted by jeff at 9:10 AM | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

Happy Thoughts for Steph

Since Steph has been getting depressed by the political climate recently (and who can blame her?), I figured I'd link to this piece at Powerline. It makes an excellent and too-often overlooked point: the standard of living enjoyed by an average American today dwarfs that of the kings and emperors of ages past. OK, it would be nice to have 10 servants to do laundry, but we have washing machines, so that puts us ahead of any but the superrich of the past even on this one, trivial point.

Posted by jeff at 9:21 PM | TrackBack

Let Gays Serve, And While We're at It...

I agree, categorically and unconditionally, with Joe Katzman and Pejman Yousefzadeh:

[P]olitical leaders should ... show that they are serious about tackling whatever personnel problems may exist in the United States military. And the best way to do that is to finally and completely reverse the ban on gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the United States military. Not only would the reversal of the ban go a long way towards remedying any recruiting problems that may exist, it is the right thing to do to let gays, lesbians and bisexuals serve their country in the armed forces should they wish to do so.

Pejman addresses what I consider to be the one reason I've seen that is a reasonable justification for not allowing homosexuals into the military:
Some are inevitably concerned that the inclusion of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the military will cause morale problems that will result from soldiers living in close quarters with one another. ... [T]o the extent that fraternization needs to be prevented, it can be prevented through the amendment and application of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In order to prevent the depletion of unit morale that may result from fraternization, fraternization of all types must be prevented, not just same-sex fraternization.

Indeed. If there is a bias in the ranks, that can be overcome with discipline, as was the bias against blacks when the military was integrated under Truman.

While we're at it, let's make two other changes: remove the rules against women in combat and abolish Selective Service. As Joe notes, women have served well and admirably in combat already, due to the nature of fighting a counter-insurgency. There is no reason to exclude women from combat and combat support arms just because they are women. Most women will, certainly, be unable to meet the physical standards of such units, but then so are many men. If an individual woman wants to serve in a combat MOS, and can serve in a combat MOS, then she should be allowed to do so.

Selective Service is the kind of odd compromise that government excels at: useless after a few years, but nonetheless seemingly immortal. When the draft was abolished, there were serious fears that an all-volunteer military of the size needed in the Cold War could not be maintained without deeply compromising on standards as to who would be accepted. My father was in the Air Force in the late 1970s, and it really looked like the doubters might have been right for a while: standards (particularly in the Army) dropped shockingly low in many cases. Read General Franks' autobiography, American Soldier, for his experiences as a young officer in Europe during this time; it's doubtful that such troops could have defeated the Soviets had they come at us full bore.

So there was a certain point to having draft registration continue at that point, in case a draft needed to be restarted. By the middle of the 1980's, it was becoming quite clear that this would not be the case. At this point, there is no doubt: except in the most extreme possible circumstances, perhaps a war with China, a draft will simply not happen. As such, let's abolish Selective Service altogether. If we do at some point need a draft, we can use tax and other records to find people, presuming that we need to. These are likely to be more accurate than old Selective Service records in any case, because they are more up to date. The insignificant time lost in such a case would be more than made up for by the current benefits: removing draft fears from the table of American discourse (scare politics annoy me greatly, particularly scare politics about the military in time of war), raising the morale of the military (see, we really trust you) and saving a small amount of unneeded government spending.

So, let's do all three: allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military, allow women in combat, and abolish Selective Service. In the process, we would increase our military's pool of available troops, and remove a bogus issue from the table.

Posted by jeff at 6:52 PM | TrackBack

History and Prediction

Kevin Drum has an observation on reading a history book written in 1963, and ending with the JFK assassination, and how it didn't foresee the massive changes impending at that time. But history isn't - never has been - predictive. History teaches us a lot about the consequences of actions in certain circumstances, but it cannot tell what will come next.

The reason for this is explored in James Burke's Connections and The Day the Universe Changed: history's shaping events - it's inflection points and tipping points, if you prefer - do not arise out of pre-existing trends. By definition, they upset the pre-existing path of events. And the reason that they do this is that we do not exist in a box.

Take what's happening today. If you want to determine the future of energy production, perhaps you would study oil, coal, gas, and nuclear technologies. If you were very clever, you'd probably study biofuels and so forth as well. And you would almost certainly miss the development of what we will base our economy on in 150 years. After all, 150 years ago, who could have predicted cars, jets and the like would be ubiquitous? Because someone, in some lab somewhere, will have a moment where he goes, "Huh??!!!" (A sound, by the way, that far more often presages revolutionary change than the more infamous "Eureka!")

And in that moment, when he realizes that if you put bit A together with bit B, you get not AB but C, the whole world will change. And we will have a new fuel source. And who knows what it will do to us?

But all of history is like that, not just the history of technology. Mickey Hart had a song on Mystery Box, Down the Road, that claimed "History turns upon the tides and not the deeds of man". He was wrong. The tides we see after the fact - or even as events unfold - are the extrapolations of the last world-shaping change. But the world-shaping changes are outside of those tides.

What history can do is give us guidance on how things have worked out in the past when confronted with a situation. For example, taking the calls for Guantanamo to be shut down, can anyone name the successful wars prosecuted without the capture and detention of enemy prisoners? OK, now how many of those did not involve simply slaughtering the enemy? My count at this point is zero. Enemy fighters that are released return to fight again. This was shown in a somewhat overdrawn way in Saving Private Ryan, where the German Upham releases later kills Captain Miller on the bridge. And it's been shown in this war with cases like that of Abdullah Messud.

Or take market economies versus controlled economies. The evidence of history unfailingly shows that market economies outperform controlled economies, and the tighter the control, the deeper the failure (because it is postponed). Does anyone seriously think that Europe's economy will outpace America's, given their tighter control? Sadly, many people do think that, despite all evidence to the contrary. And when that fails, they will claim (as they do now about the Soviet economy they once lauded) that the ideal was correct, it was just implemented badly. For some reason, it never occurs to the heirs of Rousseau that you cannot remake the fundamental nature of man.

But we can look back and derive lessons from the past, if we choose to. It requires first and foremost that we realize we might be wrong today; without that realization, no facts or evidence will be convincing. Once that hurdle is passed, the next one is to realize that there are no situations in the past that exactly mirror today's events, so we have to draw shaky conclusions, based on analogy and similarity, that might themselves be wrong. For the same reason, finding multiple similar circumstances with different outcomes is preferable to taking one point of view on one situation. The third hurdle to learning from the past is realizing that people then did not see things as we do: the universe has changed for us since then. You have to not only understand your bias, but also the biases of the people who wrote up the history in the first place.

At that point, you can begin to actually learn from history. And that learning - of how humans behave, what motivates us, what things go together, what causes change and what prevents it, and most of all humility - can help you to make better predictions. But you'll still be wrong more often than not, if for no other reason than that you cannot know everything about anything that is going on at the moment.

Still, it beats the kind of historical ignorance displayed all too often on both sides of the political isle. (For example, the Bush administration apparently didn't predict that the Ba'ath would try so hard to regain power (Why not???!!), and the Democrats today are apparently unable to see the consequences of not fighting with the intent to win (Why not???!!).)

Posted by jeff at 12:15 PM | TrackBack

I'll Vouch for That

Florida has been undergoing a program of experimentation with educational vouchers. It's been working. How well? Well enough that the teachers' unions, faced with having to allow improvements in public schools, have gone to the Florida Supreme Court to stop the program. (Yes, the same Florida Supreme Court that, in the 2000 presidential election, set three different standards and deadlines - none of which comported with state election law - trying to eke out a win for Al Gore no matter what. Let's just guess how they'll rule.

The problem is, vouchers seem to be working. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of markets and how monopolies distort them could have predicted the sequence of events:

Start state: teachers unions hold an effective monopoly on education, using the coercive power of the State to derive their funding; failing schools attract constantly-increasing funding, much of which goes to the unions through new members and the resultant dues.

Introduce an element of real competition: vouchers programs allow students from failing schools to take a part of the tax money dedicated to that students' education, and use it at any school. Many private schools decide that the voucher amount is sufficient for tuition, meaning that a student can move at little to no cost into their schools from the government schools.

Monopoly union tries to hold off major change by introducing minor changes. Horror of horrors: they work, and student outcomes dramatically improve. Now it is convincingly demonstrated that the problem with schools is not the students, but the teachers, administration, educational methods and choices, and priorities of expenditure. This is major bad juju, because it means that there is little to no justification for increased expenditure, and indeed a full-on vouchers program could force government schools to compete on both price and educational outcomes, when experience shows that they lag private schools in both categories (not to mention home schooling).

Faced with the possibility of losing power in a free market, the monopoly union goes rent seeking, attempting to get the courts to stifle the education market.

Yeah, that's about how it goes. Assuming the Florida Supreme Court does strike down the voucher program, it is unlikely that Federal courts would overrule the decision, on federalist grounds. At that point, the only way to make vouchers effective in Florida will be by amending the Florida constitution. But teachers should be careful what they wish for: the evidence of improved outcomes and the possibility of dramatically-lowered property taxes from a full-on vouchers program could be enough to make such an amendment happen.

<voice show="simpsons" character="preacher's wife" tone="hysterical">Won't someone please think of the children?</voice>

Posted by jeff at 10:25 AM | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

Why the Democrats Don't Get my Vote

You know, there are times that the Republicans really, really bug me. And before the war, I would generally vote Libertarian, because at least I thought they'd do little harm if they won. (Since the Libertarians are isolationists even now, I cannot vote for them while we are at war.) On the other hand, the Democrats don't have a chance as long as this is their answer:

If you want to convince these guys that their economic interests lie with Democrats, we need to offer them something real: local clinics, free healthcare, tax rebates, something. Right now, I don't think these voters believe that Democrats are actually promising anything that would make a genuine difference in their lives.

Yes, yes, the Democrats want to offer everyone everything except freedom and prosperity. And they want to take away prosperity from those who have it to buy votes from those who don't, all the while stagnating as Europe has done. A pox on their house.

Posted by jeff at 10:56 AM | TrackBack

The River War

Mack Owens has a great editorial in the NY Post (use BugMeNot to get past the registration) analyzing the US/Iraqi theater offensive that started with the reduction of the enemy's Fallujah sanctuary last November. (hat tip: Irish Pennants) Like myself, Owens seems to think that this was the point at which the jihadis began to be seriously engaged in depth, and where the Sunnis began to turn to the Iraqi government in real terms, and away from the Ba'athist insurgency.

Owen's post hoc analysis validates Wretchard's excellent predictive analysis in The River War. If you want to understand the campaign, Owen's and Wretchard's analyses are a great place to start, and as always Michael Yon peerlessly provides the details of how this plays out tactically.

Posted by jeff at 10:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

In the Middle? That's Where the Magic Happens

During the dot-com boom, those of us who had been in the IT industry more than six weeks had a fun shorthand to mock empty startups and the venture capitalists that gave them massive amounts of money on speculation:

1. [company's idea]
2. ???
3. profit!

You see, it's in the middle that the magic happens. Now, keeping that in mind, go read James Lileks' fantastic takedown of an idiot who is trying to get the pledge of allegiance - and really, just about everything else - banned.

What's funny is that the guy has some points that could be seriously argued. I certainly think that the government should under no circumstances be allowed to educate our children (and they don't educate mine). But this idiot isn't making an argument for such a policy; he's just spouting invective and ad hominem. Why is it that so many of the loonies describe themselves as "libertarian"?

Posted by jeff at 10:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 13, 2005

Faster, Please

I've been thinking quite a bit about how we are faring in the war, and this has led to two thoughts. The first is depressing, in a way, and encouraging in another way: the United States is not at war in the total war sense (that is to say, a committed society whose every effort strives to victory), but in a Cold War sense (that is, we have an ideological foe that we intend to defeat ideologically over time). That is a long subject for another post. The second thought is what this post is about.

It is clear that the enemy in Iraq started losing late last year. I think Fallujah was probably the turning point; since then the enemy has been shifting tactics to less and less strategically-significant attacks (from attacking US troops and overrunning Iraqi police stations, to attacking Iraqi police and National Guard units, to attacking civilians), while we have been shifting more and more to the offensive in Iraq. While the elections accelerated the political change in Iraq, it is the battle for Fallujah that appears to have ended the enemy's capability to undertake offensive actions at above the platoon scale with any coordination or apparent effect.

Wretchard writes about the balance point we are at right now, between the theater defense we were playing while setting up the Iraqi government, and the choice between setting up a strategic defense and going on the offense to achieve a faster, but more expensive (in soldiers' lives) victory. Wretchard talks about the enemy's strategic game as well. I'd like to talk about where I think we need to go strategically, and how to upset the enemy's strategic game.

I should note that this is moot, if our goal is to hold in place in the hopes that we can outlast our enemy in a war of wills, betting that we can democratize the Middle East (by osmosis, except for Iraq and Afghanistan) faster than the enemy can Islamicize it. I should also note that, given the partisan politicization of the war, and absent a Democrat leader able to move his party into support for the war, we cannot win such a war of wills. Eventually a Democrat will be elected to the Presidency, and if he is not behind the war effort, or is willing to sacrifice that for domestic political points (ahem, LBJ, ahem), then we will lose the battle of wills at that point. Our only winning strategy is a steady offensive strategy.

Our center of gravity is the will of the public to continue to fight. And the enemy's most powerful weapon for striking at that center of gravity is our press, ever willing to accommodate the enemy's need for spectacular headlines because of its own need for spectacular headlines. So in considering our strategic posture, we need to consider both how to effect the enemy's center of gravity (which is most likely, in the strategic sense, their confidence in their literally God-given right to victory) and how to draw attention away from our own center of gravity.

In other words, we need to fight the war primarily in terms of humiliating the enemy and making him lose confidence, while at the same time drawing attention away from media fights we cannot win with a press that is determined to see the US government in general, and the military in particular, as somehow being simultaneously bumbling liars and diabolical, secretive schemers of the highest order.

There are some other factors that need to be considered, of course, such as our means and our long-term goals. Our army is about as committed as it can be for the long term. Since we have not raised active-duty troop levels (in fact, we are a corps short of where we were at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, which is about the same number of troops as we actually have in Iraq currently!) since 9/11, and have not declared war in order to maintain the National Guard and Reserves indefinitely on active duty (and could not now declare a war absent a huge new provocation, on the scale of 9/11, for political reasons), we are at the extent of our possible sustainable ground forces deployment. We can use troops other than those in Iraq for short-term missions, but cannot keep the normal rotation of 1/3 in combat, 1/3 training up, and 1/3 refitting while taking on another long-term, high-force level mission. This means that we need to extend our ground forces commitment in the Middle East, rather than starting a disconnected engagement elsewhere. We have ample air and naval assets - these are barely involved in Iraq - for anything we could contemplate, although a significant uncommitted air and naval force has to be maintained in the event of a crisis in Korea or the Taiwan Straits.

In addition to the force issues, we also have no effective allies to count on. While we have many allies actively contributing to existing missions, and the British have some reserve force that could be deployed into, say, Africa, there is no effective deployable ground combat capability among our allies that is not already being used. So whatever we do will be our show.

It seems to me that we can accommodate all of these concerns, while at the same time helping the theater situation in Iraq. The next move for us, if we have seriously learned the lessons of Viet Nam and if we care about winning, is to make tactical strikes into Syria and Iran. In actual fact, simply threatening this in a credible way might be enough to get serious concessions from Syria in particular. But if not, we should bomb known Syrian safe houses, raid training camps, destroy infrastructure near the border, bomb known terrorist organization offices in Damascus and in Iranian cities, and stage spoiling and punitive raids across the borders.

We should make clear that since Iran and Syria are ignoring the border and interfering in Iraq, we reserve the right to ignore the border and destroy the terrorists in Iran and Syria. As long as we kept to stealth bombers and smart bombs over the major population centers, and minimal engagement except in the border areas, we should be able to avoid pushing either Iran or Syria into starting a naval war in the Gulf, or attacking Israel, or doing something else to widen the war dramatically. I am not suggesting we take on both at once. For both political and military reasons, it would be better to pick one fight at a time.

Me, I'd start with Syria. Not only are they already teetering internally, but they are more involved, apparently, with actually supporting the insurgency. Capturing a few Iraqis running the insurgency from inside Syria, or some major terrorists there, would be a big win that would give us a lot of freedom of action to continue. There is also a good case for Iran first, if we coupled the border raids with strong and unequivocal statements that we consider Iran a natural ally of the US, and perfectly acceptable as a nuclear state, once the people removed the mullahs and returned control to the people, where it belongs. This would disarm the mullah's biggest rhetorical weapon against us, and strengthen the Iranian democrats considerably.

Both options are full of risks, of course, but the payoffs are large if we are successful. And in war, winning requires risks; the timid side always loses.

UPDATE: It was late, and I forgot to add my second point. We need to demystify Islam. Stop treating the Koran as anything other than a book. We shouldn't go out of our way to mistreat it, but we should stop apologizing for handling it without gloves, dropping it on the floor, etc. Same thing with how we used to not let female soldiers drive in Saudi Arabia (and still wouldn't if they were stationed there). Screw that: our troops are our troops, and they are of our culture, and we shouldn't be bending over to the minor nits of other cultures when they will not acknowledge the most basic tenets of our culture. There is no reason to treat Islam or the Koran any better or any worse than we would treat Christianity or the Bible.

And that includes entering mosques to search them as necessary. We must remove these as safe places to store munitions, plan attacks and hide fighters. In the midst of battle, we have largely been willing to do this. We need to do it when we're not in battle, as well. If a mosque in Iraq has an imam preaching jihadi ideology, it needs to be searched regularly.

UPDATE: Praktike has a good post on where to go, as well. I think that Iran is our natural ally, if we can get rid of the mullahs. Since the Iranian people apparently hate the mullahs, too, we may be able to help them in this regard, without any kind of military action. Simply standing up and saying that if the mullahs were out of government, we would consider Iran our natural allies and would not object to their nuclear program - this alone would go a long way.

Posted by jeff at 9:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Rede

David Piper has an excellent essay at the Pagan Library on the Wiccan Rede and its meaning and consequences. Too often in the Wiccan community, misinterpretation of the Rede is a symptom of badly-constructed logical (and ethical) thought in general, and this often leads to the "fluffy bunny" kind of Wicca. There are two problems with "fluffy bunny" Wicca: it turns off people who can think and who are willing to embrace personal responsibility, and it attracts those who cannot think through or accept the consequences of their actions. Consider: beginning with the statement "Here is our one primary guidance, and we know that it is completely impossible to live up to in real life", what ethical system can you build which is internally self-consistent and does not permit any act to be justified no matter how horrific?

Our High Priest when we were with a coven formulated the Rede as "Do what thou wilt, an harm none", which is a formulation discussed in the essay. His reasoning (not discussed in the essay) was that there are two parts to the Rede: Truth and Love. Truth must come before Love, because failure to adhere to Truth leads to failure to accept responsibility, which in turn leads to ill-considered actions - ostensibly done for Love - that cause real and lasting harm.

One thing I wish David Piper's essay would have discussed in more detail is the role of "will" as opposed to "want". Piper conflates them in its translation into modern English, as do many Wiccans I've met. But the two are different words: will implies an effort, a striving to attain, while want simply implies a desire. This is a reinforcement of the counsel towards personal responsibility: only you can obtain your desires, and only by active effort. What you want does not simply come to you, but must be brought about by your effort. And this is logically consistent with the injunction to least harm, because what comes to you without effort is generally what is taken from another's effort. If that is not a gift, freely given, then the person whose effort created that which you have taken is harmed by your taking. If you do what you want, without regards to the others' conflicting desires, it is all too easy to cause harm.

(Thanks to Wicca News International for the link.)

Posted by jeff at 6:18 PM | TrackBack

Secrets in a Time of War

There is a very, very frightening report in Time. It details the interrogation methods used on a particularly valuable detainee at Guantanamo. What is fightening is not the methods - which are mild by the standards of civil police work, never mind fighting terrorists - but that they were reported. (hat tip: Captain's Quarters for the link; I also heard this, in somewhat different terms, on NPR this morning)

One of the least recognized aspects of war among non-warriors is the role of chance and of accumulations of small events. We tend to focus, as do most histories, on big events, like the battle for Midway. But how many people realize that the reason we had our carriers off Midway, instead of Southwest of Pearl Harbor, was because someone had the bright idea of sending a fake message about a routine mechanical problem on Midway, to see if their hunch was right about a code-group's meaning in intercepted Japanese military signals? When the message was repeated along the Japanese military networks, the code group (AF) appeared in reference to where this supposed mechanical problem had occurred, and since we already knew from decyphered enemy messages that there were carriers heading to "AF", we sent our carriers to Midway to meet the enemy.

The protection of military secrets is vital to winning a war. If the enemy knows everything you have, where it is, what it can do, and what you plan to do with it, he can counter your force with his own, and knowledge multiplies his power tenfold. Let's say that the military is planning a raid in a particular neighborhood. If the terrorists holed up in that neighborhood know it, they can simply not be there when the troops come.

But what about this Time report? Well, every enemy combatant we capture from here on out will know about the tactics that we use, and will therefore be prepared to resist them. (The fact that even these mild interrogation techniques are already being decried as against American values is another post all of its own.) That means that we will no longer be able to get as much information out of newly-captured combatants. And since we cannot (for political reasons) ratchet up the stress of the techniques we use, the odds are that the well of information will dry up for those enemy we don't decide to send to countries that are less, um, sensitive in how they handle enemies.

So why does it matter, in the long run, if we don't get bits of information from the enemy, even though he's getting serious amounts and quality of information about what we have and how we operate? Well, it matters because of the second factor I mentioned above: the accumulation of small incidents.

There is an old story, of whose provenance I am unsure. A messenger had vital information about the enemy's movements, but because a blacksmith had failed to put the last nail in one of the messenger's horse's shoes, the shoe was thrown and the horse lamed. The messenger was unable to get to the King with the message, and thus the King was ignorant of the enemiy's movements, and was surrounded and defeated. Or consider Shakespeare's Richard III: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

As in Viet Nam, the US will not lose large battles in this war. (This is pretty amazing in general: the US is expected not only not to lose wars, but not to lose battles, and to do this under the most restrictive conditions ever imposed upon men in battle. And we do it.) We will have setbacks, yes, and these will be equated by the enemy and by the media with great defeats, and will be rhetorically amplified until many people believe that they are defeats. We hear every day a constant drumbeat of DOOM! DOOM! even while we are crushing the enemy abroad, blocking (so far) his attacks on us here in the US, and democratizing several countries in the process.

So if we will lose battles, we could still lose the war. As in Viet Nam, we can at any time snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The real battlefield in this war is the morale of the American people. The government's ability to impact this morale is limited: if the government were to start a service of optimistic press releases, what kind of coverage would it get in the rest of the media? So with the press daily beating down the US will to fight, it is up to non-traditional media like bloggers, and ultimately up to each individual American, to maintain this will.

But will is a fickle thing; it is subject to constant questioning. And it is the daily accumulation of car bombs deliberately planned to obtain the most coverage in the West; the deliberate, brutal filmed beheadings of innocents to demoralize the civilian population; the constant stories on all of our faults, no matter how trivial, combined with the utter indifference to and lack of reporting on our enemy's brutalities, no matter how outrageous - it is these events which batter at our will to fight.

Churchhill said that in war, the truth is surrounded by a bodyguard of lies. That is still true. The media seem to be intent on us losing this war. This seems to be more from ignorance of the consequences of their actions than from actual malice (in most cases), combined with a preference for attention and advertising to victory. This is not an excuse: people will still end up dead because of Time's actions, like Newsweek's actions before them, and sadly and undoubtedly like others to follow.

UPDATE: Wretchard covers the same Michael Yon post that I did, and ends with this observation:

In summary the situation can be described as follows. The Coalition is on the strategic offensive, probably inflicting a multiple kill-ratio on the enemy, capturing its leadership, improving its intelligence capacity and generating ever larger numbers of indigenous combat forces. It is basically ascendant in every measurable military category. On the other hand, the insurgents are counting on making America tire of of serial combat victories without apparent end in the belief that if they simply do not admit to loss they will eventually win -- not on the battlefield as Fester and Kos would have us believe -- but on the political front, as they always aimed to do.

Posted by jeff at 10:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Michael Yon is embedded with the troops in Mosul. His reporting from the war zone is detailed, balanced, complete and very well written. It is everything that the media should be working on constantly in reporting the war, yet somehow never get around to. Here is May, in summary. It's a long post, but after reading it, you will have learned more about how the war is really playing out than you will have from reading the newspapers for the last two years.

Posted by jeff at 6:40 AM | TrackBack

June 12, 2005

Delete and Ban

I have been wanting for some time to be able to delete a trackback ping, and at the same time ban the IP (same with category pings and comments). Since SixApart hasn't done the work for me, I figured I'd do it myself. In the extended entry are the diffs to enable this functionality.

Of course, there are the caveats. This has only been tested on one installation with two blogs, and only on MT 3.16. Even then the testing has been limited so far, though I suspect it will get a more thorough workout over time. This only works with trackback pings, category pings and comments. (Hopefully, it works correctly with all of those all of the time, but no guarantees on that.) This is not a plug-in, but alteration to the basic MT code. As such, it carries more risk than installing most plug-ins. Please don't muck up your app, then whine to me about it. In other words, use at your own risk; no warranty; that word does not mean what you think it means; you can't handle the truth. Oh, and the template change allows for translations, but I didn't do any localization at all.

If you use this, please let me know. If you use this and have problems, definitely let me know so that I can fix them. If you are from SixApart, and want to incorporate this, please feel free, especially if you can improve it.

UPDATE: One thing I should note: there are no checks to make sure that you haven't deleted this IP before, so if you are deleting several items from the same place, your banlist will likely include the same IP several times, which is a little inefficient. I'll probably fix that at some point.

UPDATE: OK, I've fixed the code so that it only puts the IP in the ban list once. If you've already updated your CMS.pm with the original code, I suggest going back to the original and then proceeding from the diff in the extended section. I also fixed the display of the code. All of the -> operators weren't showing up correctly.

Here is the change to <MT_BIN>/lib/MT/App/CMS.pm

>             if (($type eq 'ping' || $type eq 'ping_cat' || $type eq 'comment')
>                 && $q->param('deleteAndBan'))
>             {
>                 use MT::IPBanList;
>                 my $existing = MT::IPBanList->load({ 'ip' => $obj->ip, 'blog_id' => $q->param('blog_id') });
>                 unless ($existing) {
>                     my $ban = MT::IPBanList->new;
>                     $ban->blog_id($q->param('blog_id'));
>                     $ban->ip($obj->ip);
>                     $ban->save
>                         or die $ban->errstr;
>                 {
>             }

And here is the change to <MT_BIN>/tmpl/cms/delete_confirm.tmpl

> <input type="submit" name="deleteAndBan" value="<MT_TRANS phrase="Delete and Ban">" />
> </TMPL_IF>
> <input type="submit" name="deleteAndBan" value="<MT_TRANS phrase="Delete and Ban">" />
> </TMPL_IF>
> <input type="submit" name="deleteAndBan" value="<MT_TRANS phrase="Delete and Ban">" />
> </TMPL_IF>
Posted by jeff at 3:18 PM | TrackBack

Bolivia Falling into Ruin

Bolivia is falling into ruin. Sadly, it seems as though this will end up in a civil war, and it seems from other things I've pieced together over time that this crisis is largely being instigated by Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's "one man, one vote, one time" dictator. I doubt that the US or the UN will get involved, and Brazil is apparently going to stay out of it, so it looks like the situation will come down to who controls the Army and Police. If those institutions answer to the political leadership, then there will be a (likely long) civil war against Morales' insurgents with Venezuelan backing. If not, then there will likely be a very short and bloody overthrow of the government, followed by a long and bloody communization effort.

UPDATE: Man, some days. I originally had this as Ecuador, and indeed meant Bolivia. While I was typing this, I was thinking about a fraternity brother from Ecuador, and my brain was handily mistyping what I was thinking about instead of what I was saying. Sorry about that.

Posted by jeff at 11:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Being a Hero

David Blue, at Winds of Change, has a must read (seriously) essay on heroism. I think that the essence of heroism, which David touches on but does not go into great detail about, is the ability to shut down every other response, no matter how primal, in your brain and just do what's right. The people who start trying to weigh the situation in the balance beyond basic situational awareness are not the ones who end up heros, but the ones who describe the heroic feat to the ones who come to the scene of the event after it's too late to intervene. In other words, heroism is a primitive, primal response of "NO!!!!" and then following up before your mind can engage to tell you how stupid it is to jump into a river with a newly-crashed passenger jet, or to run out into enemy fire to pull away a comrade, or to save a boy being mauled by a large, vicious dog.

Posted by jeff at 11:07 AM | TrackBack

June 11, 2005

Rant On, Brother

Brian Dunn has a great rant about some stupid foreign policy articles on N. Korea. My favorite bit:

This is serious rock-pounding stupidity. I'm honestly not sure if it exceeds the previous article or not since they cover different subjects (though in both the common fault lies with President Bush). Comparing stupid apples with stupid oranges isn't easy.

In the end, I think I have to give the edge to Selig for turning the "stupid dial" to eleven. He shows why I sometimes get so frustrated with area experts. They go native. They learn so much about the local thugs that they can divine differences between the 90% psychos and the 95% psychos. And they seriously think this difference is significant. In the end, the experts such as Selig use their insights in order to identify who we should surrender to.

Posted by jeff at 1:41 PM | TrackBack

Just Give Me the Damn Ball!

At my job, I get the chance to see famous people occasionally.

Today's celeb sighting - Keyshawn Johnson.

Posted by Brian at 1:13 AM | TrackBack

June 10, 2005

More Spammers

I've decided to make this a weekly thing, so that there are fewer posts in amongst the good stuff. Hopefully, this is helpful to people in the first place.

Trackback spammers:

As an aside, is online poker really that interesting to people?

And here are the people trying to actually break into my server. While not spammers, they are in many ways more dangerous, while spammers are merely a nuisance.

Posted by jeff at 11:59 PM | TrackBack

Never Again

In 1946, the world looked over the wreckage of humanity that the Holocaust caused, and said "Never again." Subsequent decades have shown that the full statement should have been: "Never again will fascists commit genocide against the Jews in Europe unless it's convenient." I'm with Joe: Give them guns to defend themselves.

Posted by jeff at 6:55 AM | TrackBack

June 9, 2005

Silently Weeping at Where America is Heading

Via InstaPundit, information that Pete Sessions (R-TX) [sadly, not my rep, so that I could vote against him], is up to no good:

A Texas Congressman has introduced a bill that impose a nationwide prohibition on municipally-sponsored networks.
Dubbed by the Author, Representative Pet Sessions (R-Texas), the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005, the bill prohibits state and local governments from providing any telecommunications or information service that is "substantially similar" to services provided by private companies.

The bill, HR 2726, is similar to a host of state bills pushed by telecommunications companies aimed at fending off municipally-run wireless networks. Some of those bills, most recently one in Texas, have been stalled in state legislatures.

The telecommunications operators say that such networks represent unfair competition while municipalities claim that the services are needed to promote business and close the gap between digital haves and have-nots.

According to Sessions' on-line biography, he is a former employee of Southwestern Bell and Bell Labs. The bill will first be considered by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

You know, I used to think that in the very remote event I were ever compelled to take up arms to defend Liberty, dual sovereignty, a government of enumerated powers, negative rights or to prevent tyranny, it would be because of the overreaching statist Democrats. Now, I am coming to think that in the hopefully-unlikely event I am ever compelled to take up arms for those reasons, it will be because of the overreaching statist Republicans.

Posted by jeff at 9:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Amnesty International Very Far Gone

Captain Ed points out that in addition to equating Guantanamo Bay's prison camp for terrorists to the Soviet Gulag camps, Amnesty International apparently has called for US officials to be kidnapped abroad, and tried for war crimes. My first thought is to wonder whether anyone really wants to commit that act of war against the US? Frankly, I cannot think anyone would be that ballsy, since we'd be prepared to destroy a country that kidnapped, say, the President.

My second thought is that we should allow Amnesty the chance to put their money where their mouth is. We should offer to Amnesty, the ICRC, etc. the opportunity to set up camps, on land we provide, around which we will place a guarded perimeter to ensure that no prisoner can escape. Within that will be a prison built to the specifications the NGO's desire, and staffed by the NGO's people. They can ensure that everyone inside is treated as they wish, and we will ensure that no one escapes. The prisoners inside would be those we've decided are too dangerous to release, but which we are done interrogating for information that might save lives in the war.

Think they'd go for it?

Think they'd survive?

Posted by jeff at 4:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Constitution as a Political Weapon

Glenn Reynolds is not excited with the filibuster fights, because he doesn't feel that it matters. Sadly, he's correct in a way. With even Scalia voting that the Congress can do anything it wants, so long as Scalia agrees with it, it's becoming increasingly clear that the written Constitution is meaningless in practical effect.

But this is a problem. If we don't have a meaningful written Constitution, then it is impossible to limit the government's power: any limitation could simply be interpreted away as it is convenient to the government to end the limitation. In other words, whether we are free or tyrannized is entirely within the hands of the government. Our only hope is that a government which already has no accountability to the citizens, and increasingly has no limitations on its powers, is composed of benevolent tyrants. If you are a Republican, think of Bill Clinton with no checks on his power. If you are a Democrat, think of Richard Nixon with no checks on his power. If you are not scared of that thought, I hope your chains rest lightly on you.

What all this comes down to is that appeals to the Constitutionality of a particular government policy, law or regulation are now strictly utilitarian. There is no principled reason to point to the Constitution, since in practical terms it is not observed; instead, the Constitutional appeals of both sides have to be seen in the light of whether they advance or retard that side's policies.

So let's just say, for the sake of argument, that we cannot compel strict interpretation via Constitutional amendment, cannot get strict interpretationists on the bench, and cannot change the general public acceptance of government overreach. What then?

Actually, we don't have to guess: the filibuster battles show us that what follows logically is already in progress practically. The key to power becomes the Supreme Court and (to a lesser extent) the circuit Courts. Whichever group has the majority of judges on the Court will see its policies upheld, and the opposing party's policies struck down. (Since few judges are truly lockstep, the process is slowed, but not stopped.) Given that neither party has any protection other than holding that Court majority, each party will do anything possible to prevent its opponents from stacking the Court, and to stack the Court itself.

In other words, the filibuster battles are the only rational outcome of a system in which only pure power protects you from your opponent's whims. Events will take a turn for the worse. When a vacancy opens in the Supreme Court (which could happen as early as this month), the bloodletting will make the filibuster battles pale in comparison (and will likely subsume them).

There's only one step further that must be descended: the recognition by Republicans that it is in their interest to appoint more justices like Scalia, rather than more justices like Thomas. And I suspect that realization will not be long in coming.

Posted by jeff at 2:21 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 8, 2005

Homeland Insecurity

I bury my head in my hands and weep. OK, that is a bit of an exaggeration: I don't actually expect perfection in any human endeavor. What bugs me about border security is that we, for what appears to be crass political reasons, are unwilling to even make a serious attempt to secure our borders. What, I wonder, will the politicians and activists so intent on letting illegal immigrants get here and stay here without let or hindrance say, once terrorists exploit our weak borders and kill numerous innocents? I suspect they will continue whistling past the graveyard, while blaming it all on someone else and stepping up the pressure to legalize all illegal immigrants "so that this can't happen again." Then, then I will be weeping.

Posted by jeff at 9:08 PM | TrackBack

I Don't Even Know What to Say About This

Just go look. (hat tip: Liberals Against Terrorism) Who came up with the communist propaganda...and then decided it would be a good thing to use it? It looks like North Korea - no, it looks like several people need to be fired.

Posted by jeff at 3:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment

The implications of the Supreme Court's latest farcical decision have gotten me thinking about the Constitution again. Actually, I do that pretty constantly, sometimes at high volumes and levels of agitation, as my long-suffering but wonderful wife can attest. But specifically, I'm wondering if there's a Constitutional fix that would work; that is, a fix so plainly worded as to make impossible its abrogation by a Supreme Court steeped in its own arrogation of power to set the Constitution to mean anything the Court wants it to mean. And I think there is.

The problem whose solution I'm looking for is summed up by Justice Thomas in his dissent:

If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption
(not because it is interstate commerce, but
because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce),
then Congress' Article I powers -- as expanded by
the Necessary and Proper Clause -- have no meaningful
limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs,
guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to
"appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating


If the majority is to be taken seriously, the
Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees,
clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50
States. This makes a mockery of Madison's assurance to
the people of New York that the "powers delegated" to the
Federal Government are "few and defined," while those of
the States are "numerous and indefinite."

So, how is it possible to return to a Federal system of dual sovereignty and enumerated powers, and to a meaningful Constitution? The first requirement is to realize that any amendment that would have this effect, must first pass through the current process for amending the Constitution. This means that such an amendment would fail if it did not reflect what people want from the government.

The first requirement is that any such amendment should either utterly discard Marbury v. Madison, or should codify it. If Marbury v. Madison is left unstated, then any restrictions in interpretation imposed upon the Court immediately make Marbury v. Madison untenable as precedent, and thus moot themselves. The more likely course is that such restrictions would be ignored. Therefore, the aspect of Marbury v. Madison that gives authority to the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of the Constitution should be codified. Because this is an awesome power to wield, the power should be limited in the codification. For example:

In any Case arising pursuant to Article III, the Supreme Court and any duly-constituted inferior Courts shall have the power to invalidate any Law or other government act which is in contradiction to this Constitution and its Amendments, and to impose such remedy as appropriate to redress the Law or act. However, such remedy shall only be binding on parties to the Case, or to their heirs or assigns as provided by law. No Law or act of government may be invalidated if that Law or act adheres to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may any Law or act of government be used to impose penalties on any person, if that Law or act does not adhere to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

Now that we can meaningfully restrict the power of the Court, yet still reach a (relatively) final resolution on the meaning of the Constitution, at least in a legal sense, any such amendment must contain language that compels a narrow interpretation of the Constitution, so as to prevent sophistry from trumping liberty. For example:
The Court may not, in invalidating a Law or act of government, in any way abridge powers granted according to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may the Court, in upholding a Law or government act, grant additional powers not present in the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

The above language would reverse the concentration of sovereignty in the hands of the Federal government, as that concentration contradicts the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution (specifically, Amendments IX and X).

But there are problems with this language as it sits. The language would invalidate most laws passed in the last 75 years, as challenges came up to Social Security, the drug laws and so forth. Heck, I'd be among the first to file to overturn all campaign finance reform laws, particularly BCRA, as violating the first amendment. The desires of the people in regards to their government have changed, and this needs to be reflected in the Constitution, rather than imposed by unelected and virtually unaccountable courts. Many of the laws that would be invalidated should in fact be included in the Constitution, as they are powers the people by and large want the government to assume. There also has to be a time for transition, because it takes time to amend the Constitution under any scheme (well, any amendment scheme that purports to protect the Constitution anyway) and some of the programs and powers that would need to be codified could have disastrous side effects if simply removed without transition. Again, think of Social Security here.

Another problem is what to do about lynchings. Where a State refuses to enforce its own laws, to the detriment of its citizens (and by extension, of US citizens), how should this be handled?

The language of the amendment would have to be expanded to cover these cases, because otherwise the amendment could not muster enough support for ratification.

In order to allow the Constitution to evolve more quickly, to meet the changing desires of the people for what their government should be allowed to do and disallowed from doing, the amendment process needs to be revamped. The current process requires 2/3 of both houses of Congress to propose an amendment, or 2/3 of all State legislators to call a convention. The amendment only becomes valid when 3/4 of the State legislatures or of Conventions in 3/4 of the States have ratified the amendment. That makes the bar so high that the Constitution is rarely amended. While generally a good thing, the limits are probably set too high, and that is the primary reason, I think, why we have taken to using an unwritten Constitution and largely ignoring the written one. (The amazing thing about a common law system is that, for the most part, that actually works!)

I see three things that can be done: make the existing Congressional process easier; add a process where the people as a whole can more easily propose amendments (this allows large-population States a way to get what they want); make the existing Constitutional Convention process easier (this allows politically-similar low-population States a way to get what they want). I think all of these ideas are viable, so how about language for all three:

The Congress, whenever three fifths of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of three fifths of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, or, upon the presentation to Congress of referenda proposing Amendments in States whose population is three fifths of the whole population of the United States, shall propose such Amendments, which, in any Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, or by Conventions in two thirds thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Yes, that's pretty much a straight rewrite of Article V.

In order to ensure that the amendment process has time to work before programs and powers simply disappear, the amendment needs to include a transition period after an existing law is challenged. Note that some transition period is available simply because it would take a while for this amendment to go through the process, and at the same time there would be no requirement to even begin the process of adding a program or power by amendment until a case challenging the power or program works its way through the courts. This should do it:

Any Law or act of government, passed or undertaken prior to the ratification of this Amendment and invalidated by the Court, shall continue in force after such invalidation for one month for each year of the Law's or act's time in effect.

Note that this means that a law passed in 1935 would be in effect for 70 months (almost 6 years) after it was invalidated, assuming such an amendment were ratified and a law invalidated under it, all in this year. This would give a lot of time for an amendment process to take place. Sufficient time, in fact, to actually come up with an amendment to, say, allow Social Security. More recent laws, being less firmly established, would have less time to be amended or to have requisite powers added to the Constitution before they passed out of effect.

In order to protect people from a State's unwillingness to protect its own citizens, the amendment needs language that allows a person to bring suit against their own State for failing to uphold its laws. For example:

The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in any case arising from the failure of a State to grant to any of its citizens the equal protection of the laws of that State.

Note that I have stayed away from policy in this language. This is not a wishlist for which policies should be codified (in fact, I generally don't think that policies should be codified at all). The only intent is to restore us to being a federal republic, and then let the will of the people take its course from there.

So how can this be improved? When I'm happy with it, I intend on contacting my Senators and seeing if I can't get them to introduce it (or something like it). After all, if you don't ask, the answer is no.

Here is the full text, all in one place:

Section 1.In any Case arising pursuant to Article III, the Supreme Court and any duly-constituted inferior Courts shall have the power to invalidate any Law or other government act which is in contradiction to this Constitution and its Amendments, and to impose such remedy as appropriate to redress the Law or act. However, such remedy shall only be binding on parties to the Case, or to their heirs or assigns as provided by law. No Law or act of government may be invalidated if that Law or act adheres to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may any Law or act of government be used to impose penalties on any person, if that Law or act does not adhere to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

Section 2.The Court may not, in invalidating a Law or act of government, in any way abridge powers granted according to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may the Court, in upholding a Law or government act, grant additional powers not present in the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

Section 3.The Congress, whenever three fifths of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of three fifths of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, or, upon the presentation to Congress of referenda proposing Amendments in States whose population is three fifths of the whole population of the United States, shall propose such Amendments, which, in any Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, or by Conventions in two thirds thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Section 4.Any Law or act of government, passed or undertaken prior to the ratification of this Amendment and invalidated by the Court, shall continue in force after such invalidation for one month for each year of the Law's or act's time in effect.

Section 5.The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in any case arising from the failure of a State to grant to any of its citizens the equal protection of the laws of that State.

Posted by jeff at 2:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Taking the Battle to the Enemy

Austin Bay pulls together a lot of threads around a Washington Post article about a Syrian smuggler and jihadi and his role in the Iraq war. This reinforces in me a conviction that has been growing for a while: we will eventually win the Terror Wars, unless we give up; but we can lessen the chances of giving up, increase the speed at which we win, and reduce the number and cost of stand-up fights if we take the battle aggressively to the enemy.

The first problem we face is defining the enemy. "Knowing him when we see him" is not good enough, particularly in a society where dupes and outright seditionists in our own society are willing to use our open system of justice in attempts to keep the enemy free and free to operate. Here is how I see the major enemy: the enemy comprises people motivated by the violent jihadi ideology that arises out of Salafist/Wahabbi Islam to attack those they see as unislamic.

The major enemy breaks down into several categories:

  • The actual jihadis, who take up arms or become suicide bombers, or train and arm the fighters: These are the actual fighters, and are analogous to the enemy military in a conventional state-on-state war.
  • The terror masterminds, who guide and fund the jihadi fighters. These include such obvious characters as Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership, and are the analog of the enemy government.
  • The producers of terrorists, which include the madrassas and their Saudi (and other) backers; the despotic, terror-supporting Arab governments (Syria, Iran, "Palestine", Saudi Arabia and a few others); and the imams and mullahs and what have you who preach the jihadi ideology. These are the analog of the enemy economy.
  • Those who are sympathetic to the jihadi cause for religious, ethnic, nationalistic or ideological reasons, and are willing to donate money, time, shelter, and other aids and comforts ot the other enemy groups. These are the analog of the enemy population.

In addition to this, we have minor enemies and opponents to deal with. These include the loyalists of current or deposed regimes, who will fight us only in their own country and to protect or restore the regime they are loyal to; anti-Enlightenment Westerners (and some who are just anti-American and anti-Israeli) who don't particularly care whether the jihadis win, but are determined to see free-market, representatively-governed, Enlightenment-derived, classically liberal societies lose (this, by the way, is sedition, not treason; it's only treason if they cross over into actively helping the enemy), and who are willing to see the jihadis win to accomplish that goal (think Ward Churchill); and the "useful idiots" who for multiculturalist or internationalist idealistic reasons actually believe that there is no moral difference between us and the enemy or are simply unable to form clear judgements about consequences (think Jimmy Carter).

Right now, we are fighting actively against the jihadi fighters, the terror masterminds, and the remnant Ba'athist loyalists in Iraq. We are doing little to nothing against the other groups.

The enemy's advantages include our reluctance to fight every aspect of the enemy's power base (a far cry from WWII and even Viet Nam), and to argue forcefully against Western and Arab/Muslim opponents of our conduct of the Terror Wars. The attempt seems to be to trade taking our time in dismantling the enemy so as to be able to provoke less outrage amongst our non-enemy opponents. Our restraint is not provoking less outrage, butmore, as our enemies and opponents take our restraint to be weakness.

Defeating Iraq's Ba'athist loyalists (the only force in Iraq legitimately entitled to be called insurgents or a resistance) has proven much easier than I would have expected a year ago. How long has it been since platoon-sized attacks on our troops or overrunning Iraqi police stations and driving police from the cities has happened? Those were the work of insurgents. The car bombings and beheadings and such are the work of the jihadis, and the insurgents are largely either giving up, or are joining the jihadis and switching to terrorism. I don't think that the jihadis will be crushed in Iraq for some time, given our current strategy, but I think that the insurgency is all but over.

We have a major advantage in this war, beyond our unprecedented military might and unprecedented economic strength: we have the ability to sustain operations at a much higher pace than the enemy, who is limited to slow and fragile communications links, has little central control authority, cannot react as quickly as we can act, and can only see concentrated threats centrally (distributed threats look smaller, and are only seen locally, because the enemy's intelligence is limited to what he can see and what he can read in the news). Our ability to sustain a faster optempo distributed over a wide area can break the enemy.

This would require continuing what we are doing now, and adding some other things, such as attacking the jihadi infrastructure in places like Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. This could include everything from killing terror-supporting imams to occupying Saudi oilfields. Given our military's current loads, and the need to be ready to move into Iran if they get close to a nuclear capability, most of the action would have to come at the smaller-scale end. By killing the imams, smugglers, government officials providing training and weapons and so on, we could seriously dent the appeal of supporting terrorism.

Much of this could be accomplished by simply paying off the local enemies these guys have already made to kill them, and if we leave some of the most vitriolic alone while killing others, and letting it be quietly whispered that it's us, the ones we leave alone may be tagged as collaborators. In any case, these attacks would reduce the inflow of recruits, and have a major impact on the jihadi ideology. After all, if God is on their side, why do they keep ending up being found dead in alleys? Leaving raw pork on the dead might help drive that message home.

Before you raise the objection that doing this in countries like Syria is an act of war, go read the Austin Bay article above: we're already at war with these people; we're just fighting on their terms. And before you raise the cultural sensitivity of pork to Muslims, consider that that is precisely why I suggested it: this is a war largely of ideas, and that means that the idea of violent jihad to restore the Caliphate has to be discredited. I'm all for other methods, as long as whatever we do has the desired effect of making adherence to the ideology of jihad less attractive. Winding up dead and damned has a way of doing that.

We're taking the battle to the enemy in Iraq, which is far better than having them bring the battle to us like they did on and before 9/11, but we need to take it elsewhere at the same time. We need to so overpressure the enemy (both the jihadis and the producers of terrorists) that they cannot keep up, and collapse utterly. And we need to do this before the seditionists in the West either succeed in convincing a majority that dishonorable defeat is better than "unfair" victory or become targets of vigilantism.

War is unpleasant, but losing a war is more unpleasant than winning it using ruthless means. This is a war of national survival: we won't have another chance to prevent the intersection of terrorism, anti-Americanism and nuclear weapons. I'll be prepared to apologize for what we do today to win, a couple of generations after we've won.

Posted by jeff at 11:42 AM | TrackBack

How to Tell that Howard Dean is Off the Deep End

When I read the first paragraph of this entry at InstaPundit, it actually took me a moment to realize that it was satire (from Scrappleface, of course). Howard Dean has been so over the top lately that it sounded plausible.

Posted by jeff at 8:21 AM | TrackBack

June 7, 2005

Sets and Subsets

The lack of logic in this is stunning:

The great-great-granddaughter of a black South Carolina farmer who was killed by a white mob nearly a century ago will be on hand next week when the Senate belatedly apologizes for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation.

Doria Dee Johnson, an author and lecturer on lynchings, says she will be in the chamber next Monday when the Senate will take up a resolution expressing remorse for not stopping a crime that took the lives of at least 4,742 people, mostly blacks, from 1882 to 1968.

The measure apologizes and expresses “most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching.”

The Senate resolution, sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and George Allen, R-Va., notes that nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in the first half of the 20th century and that seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching. But Senate filibusters blocked anti-lynching legislation for decades, Johnson said. “It will be nice to have an apology from that same body,” she said.

(hat tip: Best of the Web)

OK, let me get this straight:

  1. Murder is an unlawful killing.
  2. Lynching is an unlawful killing committed by a mob where the murder victim is hanged.
  3. Lynching is therefore a subset of murder, and a ban on murder is a ban on lynching by definition, just as a ban on wearing shirts would encompass wearing plaid shirts.
  4. Every State has (and had during the period in question) laws against murder. Therefore, lynching was already outlawed in every State during the period in question.
  5. The Federal government did not (during the period in question) have laws against murder, because there was a time when Federalism meant something, and murders would have been tried by the States under which they occurred.

So, is the Senate saying that they should have acted to prevent a subset of murders, but not all murders? Are they saying that State murder laws were ineffective then, and so they should have killed Federalism sooner? I mean, if they want to make a sensible apology, maybe they should apologize that we were at one time a federal republic. At least that would be intellectually consistent. By apologizing for not federalizing punishment of a particular type of murder, whose victims were generally of an easily-identified group, all the Senate is doing is pandering to that group.

At least bills like this are meaningless as law. Unless, of course, it comes to the Supreme Court; then there's no telling.

Posted by jeff at 3:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 6, 2005

Apple, Intel, Eeek

Actually, the "Eeek" is not that serious. The big thing I'm worried about in Apple switching to Intel CPUs is not performance (Apple convinced me that they could handle this kind of transition when they went from 680x0 to PPC), but Classic. We have a lot of software that we use - kids' games, cross-platform CDs for education, old versions of apps we don't want to pay $100s to replace and that still work, apps that we need that have never been made available for OS X and so on. If Classic isn't supported, and it's hard for me to figure out how it would be, unless Apple is running a 680x0 emulation layer on a PPC emulation layer on Intel (gurgh!), we can't move to the new machines, at least not completely, until we can find replacements. Of course, if you look at Apple's 2% sales vs. 16% installed base, the suggestion is that Macs last a lot longer, which has certainly been the case for us, so maybe we won't need to upgrade for a long time.

UPDATE: Wizbang has some interesting and intelligent thoughts. Sadly, no comments, because of the near-inevitable religious flamewar nature of OS bigotry.

Posted by jeff at 6:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Examined Life

Mark Safranski pointed me to this article on self-reflective thinking. The post is good; the reference links at the bottom are better (particularly this one. Best of all, though, is the blog from which the post comes, which takes a classically-oriented and neurologically-based view of education. Excellent stuff.

Posted by jeff at 2:22 PM | TrackBack

We Certainly Handle the Koran Better than we Handle the Constitution

The Supreme Court has once again utterly abrogated is role in protecting the Constitution, by ruling in Raich that activities that don't cross state lines and are not commercial are nonetheless subject to Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. (hat tip: InstaPundit, of course) I'll leave it to David Bernstein to enumerate why this decision is bad; I want to tackle something related. Here's his summary: "It seems we do to some extent live under a system where the personal preferences of the Justices, having nothing to do with the history, text, or logic of the Constitution, dictate when the Supreme Court will or will not intervene to overturn particular regulations."

The Supreme Court arrogated in Marbury v. Madison arrogated to itself the power to be the final word on the Constitution. This power is not assigned by the Constitution, and the Founders in refusing to assign the Court an exclusive power to interpret the Constitution left that power in the hands of the people. How, though, does the Supreme Court enforce such decisions? In a much derided but very accurate Clintonian phrase, other people comply as a matter of "policy and comity." Supreme Court decisions are Constitutionally only binding in certain kinds of cases, and then only in the cases themselves, rather than in broad terms.

The fact that that last paragraph seems so at odds with reality is because Marbury v. Madison was a powerfully argued and brilliantly crafted decision, and since that time it has been extraordinarily rare - in fact, I can't find an example - for anyone to simply ignore the Court. But the Constitution enumerates certain powers to certain branches of government, and reserves unenumerated powers to the States or the People. The Supreme Court has developed a bad habit since the 1930s of disagreeing with the Constitution, and simply imposing their will. Why did it require a Constitutional amendment to ban alcohol, but not drugs? Why is an activity that does not cross State lines and does not involve any commercial activity subject to Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause?

Because, and only because, the Supreme Court says so and nobody disobeys them. I don't have any opinion on medical use of marijuana per se, but I do have an opinion on overreaching on the part of the government. If California decides to simply ignore the Supreme Court and continue to allow the medical use of marijuana, barring State and local law enforcement from interfering, ordering State courts to dismiss cases under the Federal statute, and if necessary ejecting Federal agents attempting to enforce the law, I will certainly support their right to do so. It would set a powerful precedent on its own: the power to enforce the Constitution lies not in the Supreme Court's benevolent intentions, but in each of us as individual citizens of a free Republic.

Unless, of course, we're ready to just give up.

UPDATE: And if the Democrats can convince me of a few things, this plan could get my vote. (hat tip: No Silence Here) What they have to convince me of:

  1. They are serious that we are at war, and that they will prosecute that war as a war.
  2. They are serious, and would put in place concrete measures to ensure that the Democrats would not revert to their own long-cherished habit of perpetuating government power over the rights of the citizenry, or extend the Federal spending power still further.

I'm not sure they can convince me of point 1. To convince me of point 2, it might be a good idea for them to start proposing Constitutional amendments limiting government power and taxing/spending authority. I look forward to them making a serious attempt to convince me.

Posted by jeff at 1:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Welcome to the Real World

Sometimes I get really bugged by little things, like when someone, referring to the Marines' discovery of a large underground bunker complex near Fallujah, asks:

[I]s it a good thing that such a well-developed bunker system was being actively used over the past two years without being found by the coalition forces

Of course not; the answer is obvious, self-evident: no one wants enemy bunkers to exist undetected for any length of time. But is it a useful question?

If you decide to go to the store to get something, there are a number of things that could happen. You could get there, get what you went for, get home, and all could be well. You could get there, get what you went for, get home, and find your house burnt to the ground. You could get there, get what you want, and be killed in a freak accident on the way home. You could get there, and the store could be closed, or they could be out of stock. You could fail to get there in the first place.

In these cases, there are things that can be done to ensure the right outcome, and things that could not. Certainly, if you came home and your house had burnt down because you left the oven running, it's your fault and you are just out of luck. But what if an arsonist burned down your house while you were gone? Were you then responsible for not being there to prevent the arson?

Because that's the supposition behind the question: the Marines are to be faulted for not finding the bunker sooner. (To be frank, I'm half convinced that that chain continues with, "and therefore their commanders are to be faulted, and therefore George Bush is to be faulted". And I'm certain that, if that is the case, the chain of supposition started with "George Bush is to be faulted".) But is it a fair supposition? Going to the store, there aren't people trying to kill you (hopefully), and it is not uncommon for things to go wrong. Murphy rules, nowhere so completely as on the battlefield.

This kind of nitpicking is unhelpful in the extreme. The better question is, how can we find these complexes faster? Do we have the resources we need in Iraq to accomplish the mission? Can we accomplish it better with more, fewer or different resources? Does our doctrine or our equipment need improvement to make it easier to find these bunkers? How can we gather better intelligence in enemy-held areas (and especially in areas we hold) to ensure that such complexes are quickly discovered? Are there other bunkers out there holding WMDs or other things nastier than explosives?

When one begins with the expectation that perfection is possible, one fails more often than not. The [unobtainable] perfect is the enemy of the [obtainable] good.

Posted by jeff at 10:40 AM | TrackBack

Sixty-One Years from Omaha and Utah

It is the task of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead.

Posted by jeff at 10:28 AM | TrackBack

Ed Murrow had a Child ...

Most Americans today don't trust the media as far as they can comfortably spit a rat. And there's good reason for that, as Eason Jordan, Linda Foley, Dan Rather, Jayson Blair and others have demonstrated their and their organizations' weaknesses while loudly proclaiming themselves innocent, correct, or above the fray. It would be easy to simply write off the media as a whole, and many people have done just that, in some ways including me.

But it's not a good idea to write off the whole of the media, for a couple of reasons. First, the news media is not monolithic; there are a variety of perspectives, competencies, points of view and areas of interest in the media. This makes it hard to generalize. Second, the media have an organization capable of gathering information that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to get. If the media were not sending reporters out to the corners of the Earth, and watching all of the wires and press releases looking for items of interest, people who want information about what's happening in the world would have to work much harder to get it.

Yet there remains a problem: the media are not distrusted randomly, but because they have become untrustworthy in many ways. As an experiment in proving this to yourself, pick an area about which you know a great deal. Find a couple of news stories about it. How accurate are they? Do they miss a lot of information? Do they get basic facts wrong, and make unwarranted assumptions? Why would journalists be any more competent at some other issue, say international affairs, than they are about the issues you know well enough to doubt them on?

It seems to me that if we want to use the media to learn about the world, it's not enough to just cry "bias" and ignore what's reported that we don't agree with. It's also not enough to say that it's the media's job to fix the problem: all institutions have inherent reinforcements and punishments that makes a bias very difficult and time-consuming to correct. As with our dealings with other people, we have to understand not if we can trust the media, but when and to what extent we can trust the media. Understanding what drives media outlets allows us to vet their reports and properly credit or deny their reports.

It seems to me that there are four dimensions to the way any given media outlet reports a story, or chooses not to: domain, scale, template and perception.

"Domain" refers to what the story is about, whom it involves, and where and when it occurs. Every person and institution has areas in which they are interested, and those in which they are not. Some reporters and media outlets cover domestic news extensively, while ignoring international news. Others cover international news well, but largely ignore domestic news. Some areas of interest are unexpected: Fox News has an (unaccountable, to me) interest in gossip and celebrity trials, which is why they tend to gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, or large numbers of "runaway bride" stories. A story in an institution's or reporter's domain is likely to be covered, while a story outside that domain is unlikely to be covered.

"Scale" refers to the size or importance of the event. A minor event within a domain, or one that's well-covered elsewhere, may not elicit a response from an organization or reporter you would expect to be interested. A major event in a domain - and an important enough event outside a domain - will draw coverage.

"Template" refers to how well the story fits the reporter's or organization's preconceived story line. People are pattern-finding animals: we attempt to find a comprehensible shorthand story that explains events, so that we don't have to think about it any more, but can react to events more quickly because they match the story line we've developed. These templates are pervasive: they effect every aspect of our lives. The media is no different; if a reporter has a template that says the US military always lies, you'll eventually be seeing them compared with Eason Jordan and Linda Foley. It is here that the charges of bias come in, and for good reason. Everyone is biased in some way; we all have templates.

For the media, their goal is not to find the truth in the news, but to make the news comprehensible and acceptable to the widest possible audience. This leads them to create templates that serve the desires of that audience. And these templates skew everything that the person or organization reports. They control which stories are deemed important, which not; what angle to take on the information gathered; which information to even attempt to gather in the first place; whom to trust; what to emphasise and deemphasize in a story, and so forth. This is not deliberate, in most cases; reporters don't set out to spin and shape and mislead (well, generally not, Jayson Blair is the poster child for someone trying to do exactly that).

So a story that is within an organization's domain, but doesn't fit the template, doesn't get widely reported. A story that fits the template, even if there is no evidence or all the evidence goes against it the story's veracity, will get reported; it's fake, but accurate. Similarly, the stories themselves - there's a reason that they aren't generally called "reports" any more - are heavily slated to fit the template, even when that involves leaving out decisive evidence and putting in questionable information. It's not generally even a conscious process, I think; it's just human nature.

"Perception" refers to how the reporter/institution wishes to appear to others. The only reason that the templates and their implied bias is even a problem for the mainstream media is that the mainstream media constantly trumpets itself as not conforming to templates. How often do the media claim that they are "fair and balanced", "objective", and so forth? All the time, of course.

This myth of media objectivity is in some ways a corrective, and in other ways a club. It can induce reporters to put in opinions that dissent from the template, and can induce them to cover stories they otherwise wouldn't. It can also be wielded to accuse others of trying to spin and distort the news when they disagree with the reporter's story. Again, Dan Rather is the poster child: he takes the attitude of "you can't handle the truth" as if he's telling it. He's not alone: many reporters get offended when confronted with templated reporting, usually as charges of bias, because it chips at their underlying perception of themselves.

These perceptions are important beyond the effect on biases though. NPR and PBS, for example, have more fair news (though not necessarily editorial) coverage than they likely otherwise would, because their funding in part depends on their perceived impartiality; otherwise Republican administrations would likely defund NPR and PBS. Similarly, Newsweek wants their templates known, so that they can appeal to a specific audience and gather advertisers, but not so well known that people who are not in that audience will simply discount them.

Yes, all of these factors apply to blogs and bloggers as well.

By looking at these four factors and how they apply to any given reporter or media outlet (or blogger), a much better sense of when and how to trust the source becomes possible. For example, the lamented Steven Den Beste could be counted on to speak eloquently and truly and with authority on many subjects; but I tended to ignore his rantings about computers because of his obvious anti-Mac bias. I would trust Newsweek to accurately report intra-Party spats among Democrats, but not spats between Democrats and Republicans.

This brings up a final point: each of us, individually, applies these characteristics (except perception, in most cases) when we decide which news to read, and which news to trust and why. We each individually apply our templates to a news report, which is why Democratic Underground can have such a widely disparate view from Free Republic on the same issue, and why each can feel the other totally unhinged.

We make decisions on which news sources we trust in large part by checking them against our own bias, and deprecating those that don't fit. What we decry in others, we often practice.

Posted by jeff at 10:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 5, 2005

More Spammers

Posted by jeff at 10:50 AM | TrackBack

For Lack of Monkey

Connor was told, last night, to pick up the hangars in his closet. He did:

hangars artistically arranged

I made a joke about selling it as modern art. Connor was confused as to why someone would buy something like that, and Stephanie and I explained about some of the modern "art" that has been sold for large amounts of money. In the course of this discussion, I explained about Jackson Pollack's paintings, and about how someone once, to prove a point, gave paint cans to a couple of monkeys and put them near a canvas (they were chimpanzees, actually, but close enough) and then forged Pollack's signature on it and sold the painting for a large amount of money.

STEPHANIE: Geez! Why didn't we do that?
CONNOR: We don't have any monkeys.

Posted by jeff at 10:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 4, 2005

Does Howard Dean Support Private Social Security Accounts?

Stephanie links to this article about Howard Dean and John Edwards ranting to far-leftists.

My favorite bit is this gem:

...pension plans "ought not to be controlled by companies, they ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to."

Dean is speaking of private pension plans. Social Security is also a pension plan. Does Howard Dean believe those pension plans "ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to" instead of by the equivalent of said companies, i.e., the government? If not, why not? Or does he perhaps think those pension plans are being controlled by their rightful owners. Goodness knows, if you die before 65, the government gets to keep your Social Security "contributions" for themselves. Sounds like "they" do own "our" pension plans, doesn't it?

Mr. Dean, I agree. The working people of America should control their pension plans. Hope to see you joing the president soon to make it happen.

Also intersting was this bit that Steph referenced:

Speaking about election reform, he said it is unconscionable for voters to have to stand in lengthy lines at polling places given the demands of work and family.

Yes, long lines are too much to ask to maintain freedom in the republic. How inconvenient! Maybe Howard Dean can give this message to the Iraqi people while he's at it, let them know what is too steep a price to pay to vote. Then he can give that message to the people of China, North Korea, Cuba, Viatnam, most of Africa, much of the Middle East, etc. - all of the world that still yearns to breathe free.

This guy really is too good to be true for Republicans. Posted by Brian at 12:10 AM | TrackBack

June 3, 2005

The Goddess of Democracy

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the violent crushing of a democratic movement in China's Tienanmen Square. My prediction about the future: one day this statue will again stand in this spot - but made of marble - and the portrait of Mao will not.

Posted by jeff at 7:05 PM | TrackBack

I Almost Feel Left Out

Can I be compared to Hitler, too?

Posted by jeff at 3:53 PM | TrackBack

Peak Oil

It's very much worth reading Kevin Drum's Peak Oil series (summary here). In particular, if you understand the underlying issue (which basically is that oil is not an infinite resource), his plan in part 5 is worth reading and debating.

Even if Kevin is too pessimistic about new oil supplies coming online, which he may be, his proposals as a general rule make a lot of sense. I think Kevin has missed (or I have missed in reading the series where he addresses it) some optimistic factors.

The most important of these is that markets work. As oil increases in price, the cost of alternatives (synthetic lubricants, biofuels like biodiesel, vegetable-derived alcohol and so forth) decreases in relative terms. At some point, the price of oil is such that these alternatives predominate, and the infrastructure begins to switch over. This reduces aggregate demand for oil, which then stabilizes at the new (higher) price. And assuming that the availability of oil continues to drop, the alternatives will take over more and more of the uses of oil, because oil will continue to get more expensive.

Eventually, the end result is that we don't use oil for hardly anything, but at the same time this results in a higher energy cost overall in the economy, and thus lessened economic output. Of course, this could be overcome by productivity gains elsewhere, and we've got a pretty long time horizon to solve the problems, so it's likely that this will not look as bad to people living through it as it will to economists looking back at old data fifty years from now.

Direct taxes on oil products is probably not a good answer, and here is why: the intent is to prevent increasing the cost of energy to the economy, or to delay that as long as possible. Taxes artificially raise prices, and thus artificially lower consumption. Good that consumption is lowered, but all you've really done is to start now on the increased costs. Stricter CAFE standards and not exempting SUVs and other non-commercial vehicles would be a much better response. So would increased tax credits for owning alternative-fueled vehicles, vehicles with higher mileage, hybrids and so forth.

Research into better electricity storage mechanisms - particularly high-efficiency, lightweight, low-cost, easily disposed of or recycled batteries - would be a good place for the government to spend research dollars. The economic driver for this is a ways out right now, but producing a better storage mechanism before the market demands it would have some advantages: cars could be converted to electricity more effectively, meaning that sources other than oil could be used to generate power for vehicles; space and military applications abound; and it's likely that such research would lead to breakthroughs in unrelated areas.

Finally, it would be good to explore distributed power generation. We used to have solar panels on my Dad's house in the 1980s. They never generated enough to repay the cost, and I cannot think how much landfill space they will generate when they are removed (that house won't last forever). But there are good cases for using solar and wind energy as supplemental systems, along with on-demand water heaters and other technologies like heat recapture. With all of that said, the market will take care of this as energy prices over time rise to be more expensive than these technologies are and will be. Still, if we put some research into these areas, it's possible that we could find ways of reducing their current costs, and thus making the market action kick in faster.

Posted by jeff at 12:47 PM | TrackBack

More Banned IPs

Trackback spammers:

UPDATE: comment spammer

And have I mentioned how much I like MT3.x's ability to delete lots of spam quickly and get at all the comments from one place?

Posted by jeff at 6:11 AM | TrackBack

June 2, 2005

Tell It To Evan Goldwyn

Brooklyn College is already back in the news.

Timothy Shortell, who was recently elected as the chairman of the sociology department, wrote in an online posting that "religious adherents" are "an ugly, violent lot" and "in the name of their faith these moral retards are running around pointing fingers and doing real harm to others."


Shortell refused to talk with FOX News but wrote in an online posting that "we should be able to debate the issue in the public sphere without fear of retribution."

In the public sphere, but what about the classroom?

Speaking of Ms. Parmar, one student, Evan Goldwyn, wrote: "She repeatedly referred to English as a language of oppressors and in particular denounced white people as the oppressors. When offended students raised their hands to challenge Professor Parmar's assertion, they were ignored. Those students that disagreed with her were altogether denied the opportunity to speak."

Students also complained that Ms. Parmar dedicated a class period to the screening of an anti-Bush documentary by Michael Moore, "Fahrenheit 9/11," a week before last November's presidential election, and required students to attend the class even if they had already seen the film. Students said Ms. Parmar described "Fahrenheit 9/11" as an important film to see before they voted in the election.

"Most troubling of all," Mr. Goldwyn wrote, "she has insinuated that people who disagree with her views on issues such as Ebonics or Fahrenheit 911 should not become teachers."

Students who filed complaints with the dean said they have received no response from the college administration. Instead, they said, the administration and Ms. Parmar have retaliated against them, accusing Mr. Goldwyn and another student of plagiarism in January after the semester ended.

Posted by Brian at 11:59 PM | TrackBack

"My Daughter is Worth 30 Pieces of Silver...

No, wait, I mean $120,000!"

WILMINGTON, Del. — A social worker who assisted sexually abused children was accused of striking a deal with her boyfriend in which she agreed not to reveal that he allegedly raped her 15-year-old daughter.

The woman had allegedly agreed not to report the incident if her live-in boyfriend paid her $1,000 a month for 10 years, authorities said.


Posted by Brian at 10:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Gulag? Not Quite

Rusty Shackleford notes:

[If you assume that everything reported about prisoner abuse at Guantanamo by the detainees themselves, and their defenders] is true then Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is a blemish on America's good name and a national shame which needs correcting.

He goes on to detail some of what happened at the gulag camps, and I'll spare you the nightmares: it can be compared only to the labor-death camps of the NAZIs and the North Koreans (and maybe the Chinese) for depravity and horror.

It is, in fact, not necessary to read any detail on what happened in real death and slave labor camps to realize that anyone making a comparison of Guantanamo's conditions to the conditions of the gulag has to be:

  • rabidly anti-American,
  • explicitly pro-terrorist,
  • trying to excuse the Soviets' behavior,
  • trying to convince people that Americans are utterly immoral and hypocritical,
  • pandering to people who believe the above and could in some way aid the ones making the comparison
  • vapid and ignorant
  • woefully misinformed,
  • or some combination of the above

I wonder which choice Amnesty International would pick?

Posted by jeff at 10:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Road Map and Wall Blueprint

Scott at Powerline notes an interview by outgoing Israeli Defense Forces head Ya'alon with Ha'aretz. Ya'alon is convinced that the Palestinians intend to restart the terror war against Israel as soon as Israel stops withdrawing, whether that's after the Israeli pullout from Gaza, or at some later time. Scott ends with "In any event, it seems fair to ask where precisely this road map is leading."

Well, here is where it seems to be leading: the Israelis will pull completely out of Gaza, even turning over border security between Egypt and Gaza. At this point, it is quite likely that freedom of movement will be ended - not just remain restricted - between Gaza and Israel. Israel will pull out (perhaps in another year) from the West Bank as well, presumably abandoning the Jordan/West Bank border to Jordan. Freedom of movement will be ended across that wall as well. The walls around Gaza and the West Bank will become de facto borders of Israel.

This will drive the Palestinians nuts, thinking they are on the verge of victory and simultaneously angry about not being able to work in Israel, and they will launch attacks over the walls with rockets and mortar bombs and artillery (if they can get it). The Israelis will respond.

Meanwhile, the Europeans will be going nuts - how dare Israel impose the unilateral solution of ending freedom of movement between the poor Palestinian families divided by the wall? - and the war will continue. But it will look more like the artillery war that preceded the Six Day War than like the terror wars of the last 15 years.

If the Palestinians are too aggressive or very unlucky, the response to the coming artillery war may be the same as the response to the last one, and I suspect that the Israelis, if they had to reinvade the West Bank and Gaza, would drive the Palestinians out completely, into Jordan and Egypt. Israel is not prepared to countenance a resumption of occupation - and occupation is always about the people, not the land.

Sadly, I don't think that the Palestinians are prepared to stop short of the line that will cause just that outcome. They almost seem to be begging for destruction or being forced out.

Posted by jeff at 1:04 PM | TrackBack


Cicero sums up my thoughts pretty closely on the situation in Europe right now. One thing I would add is that history always plays the arrogant for fools.

Just as the Europeans are the fascists of the 1930s when you scratch slightly at their multiculturalist skin, so are we Americans the murdering bastards who slaughtered our way across the continent and willfully destroyed entire German and Japanese cities just to make a point, when you scratch at our skin of civilization. People don't change in their fundamentals - individuals can, rarely, but humans as a whole do not - and we are all still brutal animals at heart. That is why civilization is such a noble experiment: we can pretend we're not animals, and vow not to be animals today. But we'll still be animals just below the surface, and when that animal nature is challenged, it will come out.

This is a lesson that the jihadis, who have no surface civilization to hide their hobbesian nature, are learning at the hands of the American soldiers and Marines, and that I fear the Europeans will relearn if they slip into the ante-bellum past. I would rather have a Europe that snidely comments at how simple and brutal the Americans are, as their economies slide into stagnation and their global influence into oblivion, than a Europe composed of a cluster of fascist and socialist armed camps looking over their mutual borders with fear and suspicion.

The proposed European constitution is an unworkable mess, and needs to be defeated. But the idea of a pacified and united Europe should not be thrown out with it. Instead, there should be a renewed effort to create a true single state, but a loosely-federated system that focuses on consolidating foreign, defense and trans-border criminal issues rather than on Maltese property-ownership rules and the details of reindeer-herding.

Posted by jeff at 9:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 1, 2005

Good Choices for the Supreme Court

It is likely that there will be three - and there may be as many as four - Supreme Court vacancies during the Bush presidency. ProfsBlawg suggests Richard Posner, an able jurist, a clear thinker, and probably widely acceptable (to the extent, anyway, that the Democrats don't decide to utterly destroy any nominee Bush puts forward). (hat tip: InstaPundit) This is a good choice.

I'd like to mention three others: Alex Kozinski of the 9th circuit; Miguel Estrada, whose nomination to the DC circuit was filibustered to death by Senate Democrats, apparently for being Hispanic and conservative; and Janice Rogers Brown of the DC circuit, also filibustered for years, again apparently for being a conservative and a minority, but recently confirmed.

I know that Brown and Estrada, in particular, would raise the Democrats' hackles. That doesn't bother me much. They both seem to be well-qualified jurists who would make good decisions, which is what I care about in Supreme Court justices.

Posted by jeff at 10:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

My Tipping Point

Wizbang has more on the FEC's proposed attempts to comply with McCain-Feingold by regulating the ability of people to publish political commentary supportive of or in opposition to political candidates within 60 days before an election.

Let me be perfectly clear:

  • I will not accede to any government regulation of my political speech.
  • I will say what I want about politicians - or anyone else - when I want and where I want (provided, of course, that it is not someone else's property).
  • I will refuse to comply with any law enforcement or other executive agency that attempts to censor or compel my speech on politicians, issues and affairs in the news, and any other matter that I consider to be protected speech (in other words, I'll accept content-neutral restrictions where they make sense, such as not yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater).
  • I will refuse to comply with any court that attempts to pass judgement on me under this or any similar - that is, blatantly unconstitutional - regulation or law. I will attempt to avoid any sentence, and will ignore any court orders, in furtherance of such attempts.

I am not quite to the point that I am willing to pick up a gun and resist such attempts by force; I think that civil disobedience is more effective in such cases - and it's certainly less likely to leave my wife widowed and my children fatherless. I used to know that there was a point where I would enter into armed rebellion against the government - it's been necessary before, even in the US - but I couldn't imagine what would tip me over that edge, what our government could do that would force that decision. I don't wonder about it anymore: this isn't my tipping point, but I can see it from here.

Let me be more clear: if the ability to speak on political matters is in any way limited, other than in minimal and content-neutral ways, then "shall make no law" is as meaningless as "for a limited time". Once the Constitution's words become utterly meaningless, as they are now perilously close to becoming, then there is no protection of liberty in the Constitution. If there is no protection of liberty in the Constitution, then it fails the meta-test of the purpose of government as laid down in our Declaration of independence. If the government has failed in its purpose, it must be abolished or reformed by any means necessary and convenient, including if necessary the use of armed force. (A Constitutional Convention would be my preferred method, if we can't simply pass an amendment that decrees the Constitution to mean what it says in the plain language of the time in which it was adopted, and compel that amendment to be observed.)

Posted by jeff at 6:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Not Quite the Same

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters makes a pretty basic mistake about the Articles of Confederation:

The current efforts of the EU to define itself looks more like our original Articles of Confederation than anything approaching unity. The results this week look similar to what they were here as well.

OK, I understand that he was trying to make the point that the proposed EU constitution was utterly unsatisfactory as a ruling document, and he is correct. However, the problems posed by the EU's attempt are the polar opposite of those created by the Articles. The Articles of Confederation created a central government that was incapable of even basic function, while the EU constitution would create a too-powerful and intrusive central government.

Some of the problems that came about from the Articles were directly reflected in provisions of the Constitution's detailed rules about representation of residents somewhat less than free citizens, the provisions on debts and taxation, and in particular the powers granted to the Congress to regulate interstate commerce and create a national army. While the EU under the proposed constitution could only barely be called free, the US under the Articles could only barely be called a nation.

And in truth, the US under the Articles was not a unified nation, but a collection of nations (there's a reason they are called States rather than counties, departments, cantonments or colonies) who basically agreed to collectively defend each other (more like NATO than a nation), to collectively deal with other nations, to allow freedom of movement between States, to respect each others' laws and contracts and not much else. Oh, and Canada could have been admitted to the league by acceding to the Articles.

So yes, the Articles were as unworkable as the proposed EU constitution, but the reasons they were unworkable and the resultant outcomes were entirely different.

Posted by jeff at 5:44 PM | TrackBack


Sometimes it is useful to remember that the nationals of Great Britain are not citizens, but subjects.

Posted by jeff at 12:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack