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December 31, 2005

Back in Town

Just got back in town from spending much of the week with my parents (much of the rest of the week being concerned with getting my car fixed). Having done so, I'm off to the living room to celebrate New Years' Eve with my wife and children. I'll be busy the next couple of days, then the total drought of posting will end, and the light posting will resume. (Real life and non-blog non-real life are claiming some time for the immediate future.)

Happy New Years' to all, and I hope next year will be better for you than this, but not as good as the year after next.

Posted by jeff at 7:56 PM | TrackBack

December 28, 2005

Fake and Inaccurate

From the same paper whose media critic opined on the MSM's superiority due to multiple layers of editors and fact checkers, I give you this.

Posted by Brian at 11:13 PM | TrackBack

Angel of the Beach

Here's a neat story about one young girl saving people in the tsunami last year:

Helpful Homework

A French children's magazine has named its "Child of the Year," an 11-year-old British girl now dubbed "the Angel of the Beach," who saved hundreds of lives during last year's tsunami in Southeast Asia. Tilly Smith had studied tsunamis in her geography class two weeks before taking a Christmas holiday to Thailand.
During a walk on Phuket island beach, she spotted bubbling water and what she called "foam sizzling just like in a frying pan." She recognized them as tsunami warning signs and told her parents, who alerted hotel staff. The beach was evacuated minutes before the giant wave crashed ashore and was one of the few on the island where no one was killed.

Way to go, Tilly!

Posted by Nemo at 7:37 AM | TrackBack

December 27, 2005

Parties and Positions

Dave Schuler, in commenting on a list of "conservative" blogs posted by Kevin Drum, asks a very important question: what do the American political parties actually believe in?

It’s becoming harder and harder for me to understand the positions of the two major political parties. Abortion on demand is pretty clearly an article of faith among many Democrats. And the Democratic Party is very clearly the party of Fordism (mass consumption, mass employment, government fine-tuning of the economy, state provision of essential services). If Fordism weren’t collapsing everywhere, I’d have more sympathy with it, myself. It’s been the prevailing political ideology in America for most of my life.

I honestly have no idea what Republicans believe these days. Not in small government; not in the market; certainly not laissez-faire. It’s a mystery.


American political parties, like mature political parties in any mature representatively-governed nation, are simple to understand: the only goal of any political party is to take and hold power. Everything else — everything else — is secondary. That is why the political parties, in circling for a permanent majority, end up flipping their positions periodically (as seems to be happening at the moment on the utility of deficits and other economic issues). What both Republicans and Democrats — and by that I mean the partisans of those parties — believe in is getting and keeping power.

There is a secondary question, that I believe would go further to answering what Dave is really looking for, and that is, "How do the political parties arrive at a particular position."

Americans as a whole (excluding the hardest core of partisans, who would never schism or disagree with the corporate position of their label, even when it flips 180 degrees) do not affiliate with political labels as a primary consideration; political affiliation is generally a second-order effect. The primary affiliation of most Americans is to positions on issues of substance. Issues that people cluster around right now include abortion, the right response to 9/11 (Iraq is a subsidiary issue here), how much control of the domestic and international markets should be exercised by the government, fiscal policy, the drug "war", what should be done about illegal immigration, response to criminal behavior, and how much income should be redistributed through programs like Medicare and Social Security. Each of those policy questions claims a variety of opinions — far more than can be encompassed by two labels — and different people assign different levels of importance to each issue. For example, my position table would look something like this1:

issuepositionimportance as a political issue
abortionmorally wrong, but the government should stay out of it prior to the point that the baby can survive outside of the mother's bodylow
response to 9/11Utterly destroy jihadis and the governments that support them with every means at our disposal.highest
marketsMarkets should be almost entirely free both domestically and internationally, with no subsidies except for defense-critical industries that wouldn't survive otherwise, and should be regulated only to the extent needed to ensure that there is not an asymmetrical information problem between producers/suppliers and consumers.medium
fiscal policyThe government should run no deficits except in wartime, and should consume as little GDP as possible, even if that means that some current government activities would have to be stopped or curtailed.medium
drug "war"See my policies on markets. If people want to kill themselves or destroy their lives, it's certainly not my business to contradict them.low
immigrationLegal immigration should be much easier. Illegal immigration should be much harder.low
crimeIn general, fewer things should be criminal, and those things that are criminal should be treated strictly. Strictly does not mean "lock 'em up and throw away the key" (except for those that actually need killing); rather, we need to focus on fixing problem behaviors where possible (locking up drug users is a particularly pointless exercise, for example) and on removing from society those not fit to live within it.low
income redistributionThere should be virtually none. Let's not go back to having people starving in the streets through no fault of their own, but let's also not run headlong towards the European model.medium to high

Every person, in addition, has their own list of issues that don't fit into the general societal arguments. Furthermore, there are minor issues that may become major, or may have been major in the past, about which there is currently little controversy.

But in the US, it so happens that our electoral system is rigged in such a way that only two stable and widely-supported political parties can exist. For that reason, people will be forced to choose from a limited list of candidates at the polls. So people choose based on which parties or candidates come closest to their positions on the most issues. (And they do this in a vacuum of information: most Americans know little more than the candidates' labels and major positions, even at the Presidential level.)

And that is where we come to what political parties believe in. Political parties believe in gaining and keeping power. The only way to do that is to get a plurality of voters to vote for your candidates. And the way to do that is to stake out a position on each issue, such that you can get the most voters to whom that issue is of critical importance. No party has a truly fixed position on any issue, and each will rotate about the issues trying to gain more votes. (As noted earlier, this is why sometimes the parties exchange positions on some issues.)

It happens, at the moment, that the Republicans have a slim electoral majority, premised on their fiscal position held when they were out of power (fast eroding now that they are in power), their position on abortion (and gay marriage, which I did not include in the list above), their position on markets, and primarily their position on the war. The Democrats held power essentially unchallenged for 40 years on their positions on income redistribution, the use of the military before and after (but not so much during) Viet Nam, and civil rights.

But the Republicans are grasping for a bigger slice of the vote pie by altering their fiscal position (losing libertarians, gaining moderate liberals), while Democrats seem to be trying to hold lose voters as fast as possible with their positions on the war, gay marriage and the markets. Given that the current trends in the Democratic Party are unsustainable, the party will likely either schism or isolate the hard Left. The only alternative is to give up on what the Democratic Party truly believes in: getting and keeping power, just like the Republicans.

This continuous ebb and flow means that the positions the parties will be taking ten years from now is not predictable beyond broad outlines or key issues (abortion for the Democrats and free markets for the Republicans). It also means that at any given time, the party that is out of power (and not-infrequently the party that is in power, too) is incomprehensible and jumbled. Ironically, the only time when political parties have such a fixed position that it's possible to determine a corporate position that they hold "on principle" is when they are on the way down.

UPDATE: Apparently Hugh Hewitt's blog software doesn't do trackbacks, but he comments here, and includes a list of lefty blogs he reads. Hewitt also lists the different 6-7 factions that he sees, and they map in an interesting way to the issues I noted above. I wonder if the prevalence of economic and foreign policy issues I list, and the fact that I would fall into the seam between Wealth and National Security on Hewitt's faction list, are related? That is, would a person falling into, say, the License faction list different issues, breaking up the two I listed (drug "war" and abortion) into further subdivisions?

1In actuality, I could write complete essays about each of these (and have about many of them), and there is a great wealth of detail and hedging in all of them that cannot be represented succinctly in a table.



As a side note, Dave seems to be amused that Kevin Drum listed mostly "conservative" blogs that are libertarian or heterodox conservatives. I'm amused as well, but not surprised. While Kevin Drum is one of the most readable of the left-of-center blogs, primarily because he's willing to question the left-of-center orthodoxy, Kevin is still fairly partisan. And there is a strong temptation to any partisan to see people outside of the party more as a threat than as a potential convert, or sometimes even as more than technically human. I suspect a list of "liberal" blogs that Hugh Hewitt would find worthy of reading would be similarly non-representative.

Posted by jeff at 8:31 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 26, 2005

As If Three Wasn't Enough

At the printer now: Munchkin 4 - The Need For Steed including such wonderful monsters as: The Ether Bunny and Hairy Potter. New treasures include: the Duck of Earl and the Bi-Sickle.

More Munchkin fun for all!

Posted by Nemo at 3:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 25, 2005

Yes, Virginia

There is a Santa Claus.

Posted by Brian at 10:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 24, 2005

Best Christmas Stuff

Here's a "Best Christmas" meme to kick around:

Best Christmas Song: O Holy Night - it was always the final song of our midnight services growing up. Done correctly, it just about brings me to tears.

Best Christmas Gift Ever Received: A couple of years ago my wife gave me a credit card sized digital camera. We'd seen one a few months before, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I wasn't expecting it, so it was a great surprise.

The Atari 2600 when I was a kid has to come in a close second, though. Lots of fun hours spent on it....

Best Christmas Gift Ever Given (lingerie and jewelry don't count): It may sound silly, but I think it has to be the Piglet slippers I gave my wife a few years back.

Best Christmas Food/Drink: Christmas breakfast is coffeecake. Period.

Best Christmas Tradition: The hurling of the wrapping paper at each other after the gifts are given.

Best Christmas Special: I haven't seen it in years, but the one I remember loving growing up was called The Night the Animals Talked. The animals in the manger were able to speak on the night of Jesus' birth. They argue a bit before realizing the miracle of what was happening in their midst. As they try to spread the good news at dawn, their voices go away. It hasn't been broadcast in quite some time, which is unfortunate.

Best Christmas Movie: A Muppet Christmas Carol. It's hard to go wrong with Kermit.

Merry Christmas to all.

Posted by Nemo at 9:44 PM | TrackBack

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like April

Today's high in Keller, TX: 66
Tomorrow's high in Keller, TX: 68

It's really, really not going to be a white Christmas in any sense of the term. I suppose that's what we get for being at the same latitude as Morocco.

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

Spying or Pattern Recognition

NSA spy program broader than Bush admitted

Government and industry officials with knowledge of the program told the newspaper the NSA sought to analyze communications patterns to gather clues from details like who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, as well as the origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages.
Calls to and from Afghanistan were of particular interest to the NSA, the Times said. This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would often otherwise require a warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.

Notice the last part of that phrase: it would "require a warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom."

So, basically, this is a large data mining operation. Rather than individual, random searches (almost useless), or general racial profiling (statistically better, but still not necessarily effective), they use broad sampling to look for anomalies - and none of it's court-admissable.

The more I read about this, the less of a problem I have with it. Does it still concern me? Some. It's hard to get enough detail (imagine that from a top-secret program) to really get a handle on it.

If this is an accurate portrayal of what's been happening, they are not spying on an individual, they are trying to pick up on clues and patterns that might otherwise be seen as background noise. Think of the ultraviolet astronomical pictures as example of this in the scientific world.

More and more this seems like good intelligence work.

Posted by Nemo at 7:51 AM | TrackBack

December 23, 2005

Monologing

This morning we were watching the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. The scene is where Kananga/Mr. Big is telling Bond his plan to dump millions of dollars of heroin onto the market. My daughter, who has not seen too many Bond movies - but has seen The Incredibles several times says: "Now, why do the bad guys always do that? Now, Bond knows the whole plan, is going to escape, and then stop him!"

Posted by Nemo at 10:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 22, 2005

More Flash Drive Horrors

She found her master’s degree in a trash can

For anyone who's ever obsessed about a project but forgotten to back up the data, watched a computer screen fizzle just before a deadline or left crucial documents in a cab -- here is a story about backing up, and moving forward.

Read the story, then repeat after me: Backups will save my life.

Posted by Nemo at
10:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Jail for Union Leaders?

Transit Strike Into 2nd Day; Stakes Climb

As New York City plunged into Day 2 of the transit strike, the stakes for those on the picket line, businesses and riders spiraled upward yesterday: Gov. George E. Pataki said that there would be no negotiations until the strikers return to work; a judge raised the possibility of sending union leaders to jail; businesses languished and weary New Yorkers grappled with the harsh realities of life without buses or subways.

Personally, I hope the judge throws Toussaint in jail and doesn't schedule a bail hearing until next week. Toussaint deliberately called this (illegal) strike around the holidays to put maximum pressure on the city. I think it would be poetic justice if the judge were to put the union leaders in jail over Christmas to return the favor.

Update: I guess the threat of jail was too much for them: Transit Union Take Steps to Go Back to Work

Posted by Nemo at 8:04 AM | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

Like Pulling Teeth

Approximate US budget over the next five years:

$12,000,000,000,000

Approximate size of the newly passed deficit reduction package in the Senate:

$40,000,000,000

Approximate amount of money government will now spend in next five years:

$11,960,000,000,000

Final vote to pass this meager alteration in future spending:

50-50 (Cheney breaking the tie)

Congress' avarice:

PRICELESS!

Posted by Brian at 11:47 PM | TrackBack

That Didn't Take Long

I have only been a credit card holder for nine months, but it seems I have already been victimized by credit fraud. Thankfully my bank (Bank of America) considered it suspicious and didn't process it until contacting me.

It was a charge for $900+ dollars at AMAZON.COM*SUPERSTORE. I don't know if that is really Amazon or not. I had only one order recently placed at Amazon. The order had just been shipped and was listed on my recent orders as what I ordered for the price I agreed to pay (about $68). I Googled "Amazon Superstore" and found this post and this discussion.

What I just thought about that I find interesting is that the charge was placed on my BofA credit card, not my BofA debit card or my just acquired Amazon card. The BofA credit card was the only one of those three not on file with Amazon.

I don't know what happened, but the result is that my credit account has been closed and the charge wasn't processed, so it looks like no harm done. I e-mailed Amazon customer support about it and they sent a prompt reply which said to have my bank fax them pertinent info so they could start an investigation. I guess I'll have to call BofA customer service to make sure that's done.

Other than that, what else do I need to do, if anything? I'm in uncharted waters here.

Posted by Brian at 10:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Firing With Cook

If you can't stand the heat ...

(hat tip: triticale)

Posted by Brian at 10:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

True, But...

Via Peeve Farm, I found a couple of posts discussing whether Apple's upcoming release of Intel-based Macs capable of running Windows will put Dell out of business. On the pro side is Daniel Jalkut and on the con side is Bob Crosley (who has about the coolest blog banner I've seen yet).

Certainly, Jalkut has a point, as recent high-profile negative reviews have made clear that you can pay high-end prices for a low-end PC if you go with the wrong brand. (Sony is much better, but no-name knock-offs are not much worse than a Dell.) But that's not enough. As Crosley notes, it is businesses — not individuals — that buy most PCs. And Crosley has fingered one of the two big reasons why that is: remote support is easier on PCs. There is another reason, though, why businesses will not switch to Mac: software. There are simply some key business apps that require Windows. Without it, how do you plan on configuring your Checkpoint Firewall 1 firewall? The UNIX console is, I think, abandoned now (Nemo can confirm or deny). But even if not, the point remains: there are some applications with not only no Mac version, but no Mac equivalent.

Now I was deliberately vague in the above commentary, because I did not distinguish between Apple hardware and the MacOS X operating system. It's a near certainty that companies will not switch immediately over to MacOS X — or even within a span of several years. It's possible that MacOS X will gain business software that whittles away at the advantages PCs have in a corporation, but those advances will be useless in tipping a company to running on MacOS until they are all in place. That is a powerful disincentive for software makers.

But there are some ways in which Apple could certainly make major inroads into corporations with their Intel-based machines as a hardware company. The first is that Apple could sell their hardware to businesses touting them as Windows systems. Moreover, Apple could tout them as the most stable Windows systems around, because the Apple hardware is rigorously configuration-controlled, and is not very internally expandable. This combination means that Apple will always be able to thoroughly test their hardware with Windows in ways most PC makers cannot do. Further, Apple can market to businesses based on more reliable hardware than most PC makers can: only Sony is in Apple's league for producing quality hardware. Finally, Apple can market to businesses on the basis of drop-in replacement: an Intel-based Mac-mini would simply plug into the peripherals already in use, with the possible exception of companies that have not yet switched to USB-based mice and keyboards.

Essentially, to get into this market, Apple would have to do three things: stand up a business support division with both sales and service capability to handle the needs of corporations (particularly with regards to predictable delivery of hardware on short delivery notice and flexible financial terms), including Windows technical support; bundle Windows pre-installed (even though companies will immediately overwrite it with their own ghost images, they generally need the license) in their business-class machines, and where they ship a mouse, ship a two-button mouse; and finally, refrain from selling MacOS to the businesses unless invited to do so. The first meets the business need for IT: predictable and dependable sales, service and technical support. The second meets IT expectations: you don't want to surprise desktop IT guys with new ways of doing things. They are remarkably inflexible in the little things. The third is how you keep from annoying your customers. In other words, Apple would have to stand up a parallel business PC company with only minimal overlap (hardware and shared resources like financial and IT departments) with their consumer-oriented MacOS X-based business.

It's a fair bet that Apple could move a lot of hardware that way: companies want good deals, but they also recognize long-term savings as an important part of the purchase decision. Companies buy based on TCO, not purchase price. By doing so, Apple would put some serious cash into their bottom line, growing their company in large leaps. As long as Apple didn't get distracted away from their MacOS X innovation, and the accompanying hardware innovation, there's not a downside there. In fact, the increased sales volume would also make the MacOS X systems cheaper, and give Apple more money to put into software development.

In addition, Apple could simply do what Microsoft has done for years, and claim marketshare based on hardware sales (Microsoft, at least for a time, counted every Intel-compatible CPU sold as a sale of Windows!), which would incentivize developers to at least port to MacOS X. And another fun side effect of increased sales, particularly into businesses, is that hardware developers would have incentives to include Mac drivers for their hardware, which is currently another point of issue for some users.

And then too, something interesting would happen as a side effect. Even though Apple would not be pushing MacOS X to businesses, some of the employees of those companies would begin to buy Macs to run Windows. And some of those would dual boot, and realize the differences between MacOS X and Windows. Whether that resulted in demands upon Microsoft to get better, or users switching to MacOS X, is hard to predict. But what is not hard to predict is that the resulting demand would, one way or another, lead to improved user experience overall.

Posted by jeff at 2:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Victory Conditions

Tigerhawk has posted a tour de force analysis of what victory will look like, and how to tell in the short term if we're moving in the right direction. What is most interesting about this is that it, like Steven Den Beste's justly famous analysis of our reasons for fighting Iraq, is not unique in its content, only in its drawing together of a lot of strains of thought into a coherent and unified vision. And this coherence and unity of vision is so rare it needs to be called out when it comes. Den Beste, Wretchard, Winds of Change, and many other commenters have said much the same (I've made several of the same points, such as the need to humiliate the jihadis), but no one has brought together the individual strands into a coherent whole like Tigerhawk has done. As a result, we now have a very useful foundation document and base for thinking about the long-term strategy in the war: we have a framework for building metrics. And that is no small thing.

One interesting thought that occurs to me, too, is that the President has also made many of these same points in speeches, also without much coherence or unity of vision. Indeed, one of Tigerhawk's commenters goes so far as to say:

I couldn't agree more, but it's not just the leftists for whom the Hawk's thinking would be too much effort. Would Bush, or Cheney, or Rumsfeld take the time and make the effort to profit from the work of people like DenBeste and Tigerhawk? Fat Chance.

Yet, as I noted, the President, and the Vice President, and the Secretary of Defense, and for that matter both of President Bush's Secretaries of State, have all made these points and others. It would be a lot of work to go back through administration officials' speeches over the last four years and fit them to this framework (as well as noting divergences). I don't have the time, sadly, but I would love to see if the administration's strategic vision lines up with Tigerhawk's analysis.

Posted by jeff at 7:27 AM | TrackBack

December 20, 2005

You Call This A Poll?

FOX News Poll: Santa Will Rate Bush As 'Naughty'

It must be a slow news day over at Fox. They polled 900 people to ask whether President Bush was "naughty" or "nice".

I wonder if they wished them a "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" after conducting the poll.

Posted by Nemo at 11:58 PM | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

PJ Shopping

MSNBC is reporting that Malls full, but sales not spectacular

Retailers remained anxious Sunday, after the last full weekend of shopping before Christmas appeared robust but not spectacular, despite generous bargains for many goods.

They didn't bother to profile the online shopping for this article, but I can't help but think it has an impact. We have been steadily increasing our online shopping for the holidays for years. This year, I'd estimate that 80% or better of our shopping was through Amazon.com. A little early planning, a couple of hours spent with a mouse and computer screen and we were just about done. We have only one gift left to buy, but that will be easy enough.

As for time spent at the mall, I think we've been in a traditional mall twice the entire season. I think we picked up two gifts that way. A couple of others have come from Walgreen's or Best Buy.

Lastly, on money. I think we spent a bit less this year than last, but that's because one of our main groups went from the traditional one gift per person to the "White Elephant" gift party. Discounting that, we spent about the same as usual.

If malls expect to compete, they will have to find a way to make it easier - maybe a mall portal like Amazon where you find what's available at the local stores. Otherwise, the premium people are placing on time makes a huge difference when shopping in malls vs. online.

Posted by Nemo at 2:29 PM | TrackBack

SSG William Thomas Payne

McQ continues his series on American heroes with SSG William Thomas Payne. At the time of the action that won him a Silver Star, SSG Payne was a squad leader in the 1st Cavalry division (the unit that CPT 4ever was assigned to, and would have gone to Iraq with had they taken part in the invasion). The action took place in Sadr City Sheik Maroof [corrected per comments], near the infamous Haifa Street, in September, 2004.

While picking up observers that had stayed out overnight in the area, a Bradley was disabled by a car bomb. In a tactic common at the time, this was coupled with small arms fire from concealed enemy fighters. Under fire, and with the Bradley in flames, SSG Payne climbed on the Bradley, and pulled out its crew and the infantry trapped in the back of the vehicle. While he was doing this, not only was he under small arms fire from the enemy, but the ammunition in the Bradley had begun to cook off: exploding from the heat. Despite these dangers, SSG Payne and Spc. Chase Ash, a soldier from Payne's squad, got all of the men out of the Bradley, and the squad was able to set up medical care for the wounded until they could be evacuated safely.
Squad from the 1st Cavalry Division with squad leader and Silver Star winner SSG William Payne
One way that you can tell that we are winning is that you no longer hear about places like Haifa Street: they are too pacified to be of interest to the media. And they are that way because of the heroic actions of our soldiers, like SSG Payne and his squad. The picture is SSG Payne's squad. SSG Payne is standing, third from the left.

Thank you, SSG Payne, for your service.

Posted by jeff at 10:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 15, 2005

Well That Settles That

DumbledoreIsNotDead.com

Posted by Nemo at 8:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Crickets

Here's something fascinating:

For the third time in a year, the Iraqis have gone to vote in elections that were by and large peaceful, and featured a high turnout. In fact, in the current elections, the turnout was the highest yet since the Sunnis appear to have decided that their best bet for having any sort of power in Iraq is to join the democratic process (at least for now). In less than 3 years, the Iraqis have built, with our help, first an interim government, then a constitution, and now a permanent government. In the time frame that saw us still militarily governing Germany and Japan, the Iraqis have been sovereign for more than a year. Meanwhile, the Iraqis have been (again with our help) building up their security forces, to the point that those forces are now primarily responsible for security throughout Iraq, with the exception of a few areas in the West and Northwest of the country where the terrorists and few remaining Ba'athist fighters are more often fighting each other than the US.

So with this amazing story, what are the reactions of those who said that it couldn't be done? There appear to be three categories:

  1. It'll still go all to hell on you. Trust me on that.
  2. Nothing has changed and we are still in substantially the same position we were in during the first Falluja battle and the Sadr uprising.
  3. Story in Iraq? There's no story in Iraq.

Every time I start thinking that I am utterly cynical about human behavior, especially political behavior, I realize that I'm not nearly cynical enough.

Posted by jeff at 4:50 PM | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

A Circus of Carnivals

The Carnival of the Vanities was a fantastic idea when Bigwig started it. It has aged badly, for two reasons: the format encourages the inclusion of posts that are not particularly worth reading for most people, and the blogosphere has simply grown so big that there is not enough time for a normal person to read all or even most of the carnival entries. (The latter is a problem that virtually all USENET groups hit in the mid-1990s, and the former has been a problem from the moment USENET was opened up to a general audience.) Internet size drives narrowcasting because it's the only way an employed human can keep up.

More even than that, the idea of carnivals has spread to the point that there is a Carnival of the Carnivals to keep track of them all — well, frankly, not even all of them.

On the other hand, Glenn Reynolds might have hit upon a fix: have ad hoc carnivals about specific topics, like digital cameras.

Posted by jeff at 7:10 PM | TrackBack

Does This Need "Ouch" or "Heh"?

Your pick.

Posted by jeff at 9:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 13, 2005

Narnia

I saw Narnia tonight. It was excellent. Pretty much perfect, in fact, to the books. I agree with every word Brian Tiemann wrote.

Posted by jeff at 11:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Collective Choice

Life with Alacrity has an excellent post on collective choice, covering various choice domains as well as options among them, and even a discussion of how to game them (of course, rigged voting is obvious, but some of the other systems need to be studied further).

UPDATE: The second in the series, on ratings, is up, and is as good as the first. Bumping this to the top. And as a bonus, one of the examples they use is a rating system judging one of my favorite games for playing with friends who aren't game geeks, Settlers of Catan.

Posted by jeff at 12:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 12, 2005

Have you heard of ...

Albert Owens?
Yen-I Yang?
Thsai-Shaic Yang?
Yee Chen Lin?

or,

Wesley Baker?
Kenneth Lee Boyd?
Shawn Humphries?

or,

Donald Beardslee?

Have you heard of Stanley "Tookie" Williams?

My guess is that only that last name will be known to most people. If you follow the news, you can't help but have heard about Tookie Williams' impending execution. Why? Why has this execution received so much coverage? I guess the fact that Williams was a founder of the Crips plays a part, but that fact really seems overshadowed by the celebrity support Williams is receiving, thus becoming a celebrity himself. Regardless of one's stance on capital punishment, I don't see why Williams is a big deal, but the other names go unnoticed.

Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Thsai-Shaic Yang, and Yee Chen Lin were Tookie Williams' victims. They go unmentioned by name in most of the coverage of this execution. Reuters most recent story on Yahoo! about the execution curiosly only uses Owens' name.

Wesley Baker, Kenneth Lee Boyd, and Shawn Humphries have all already been executed this month. They didn't get the kind of coverage and support of Tookie. Only Humphries made much of a blip and that was only for a number - 1000. His name, if ever known, has already been forgotten.

Donald Beardslee was the last person executed in California, back in January. I don't remember all this outpouring of support for stopping his execution.

I come back to the question of why? Why do the media tend to ignore the real victims and instead portray the killers as the victims? Why do the media largely ignore most executions? Why do Hollywood types, black celebrities, and so-called black leaders support saving Tookie Williams life, but ignore others like Donald Beardslee?

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

MSG Robert Collins and SFC Danny Hall

McQ continues his series on war heroes with two members of the 10th Special Forces Group (normally assigned to European operations), MSG Robert Collins and SFC Danny Hall. The Army's story about their awards is here.

In combat in Iraq's Jazeera region (in the Kurdish area near the Syrian border), Collins' and Hall's multinational SF detachment (I couldn't find a source for which other nation(s) contributed, but given 10th SFG's European orientation, my guess would be Poles or Czechs) of about 12 men was engaged by an enemy platoon-sized unit — about three times as many enemy. Hall and Collins repeatedly charged into enemy fire, most notably to rescue a critically wounded comrade. Collins called in air support and led his men in the fight, while Hall acted as medic and saved at least one soldier's life.

Thank you, MSG Collins and SFC Hall, for your service.

Posted by jeff at 1:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 9, 2005

RNC Ad on Dean/Kerry

The GOP has released a new ad, skewering the Democrats with their own words on the war. It takes the words of Howard Dean and John Kerry and puts them up with a person waving a white flag.

The Democrats have been running from Dean all week since he said the US could not win the war in Iraq, and the GOP is going on the offensive with it. Like a few weeks ago when they put the retreat plan to a vote before the Senate (and being defeated soundly), the GOP is making the Democrats eat their words.

The Democrats have tried hard to undermine the war in the media, but have not wanted to be held accountable for it later. I'm glad to see the Republican party hold their feet to the fire on this - it is way past the time to put up or shut up. The Democrats don't want to be called unpatriotic? Then maybe they need to be the loyal opposition, rather than constantly being the nay-sayers. They need to put forth just criticism and real alternatives, not calling our own troops terrorists.

I really wonder how much longer before the DNC pulls Dean out of his position.

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December 7, 2005

Inspections Fail Again

This had me laughing.

Posted by jeff at 11:03 AM | TrackBack

December 6, 2005

They Eat Their Own

By and large, the Democrats — at least the opinion leadership of the Party — seem to be moving in the direction of Howard Dean and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (aka kos). In other words, the opinion formation is moving away from the Clintons' DNC towards the true dingbats, the transnational progressives. And seeing how kos, for one, treats those in the Party who dissent (hey, isn't dissent supposed to be good?) from the Party orthodoxy, it's clear that the Republicans have nearly a free hand to fail at almost everything that they do, because in the end, you can't beat someone with no one, and the Democrats still eat their own.

Posted by jeff at 3:42 PM | TrackBack

The Next War

If Mohammed al Baradei is correct, and Iran is really less than a year away from even a rump nuclear weapons capability, the next war will be in Iran, and it will be soon. (via Officers' Club)

IAEA chairman Muhammad ElBaradei on Monday confirmed Israel's assessment that Iran is only a few months away from creating an atomic bomb.

If Teheran indeed resumed its uranium enrichment in other plants, as threatened, it will take it only "a few months" to produce a nuclear bomb, El-Baradei told The Independent.

On the other hand, he warned, any attempt to resolve the crisis by non-diplomatic means would "open a Pandora's box. There would be efforts to isolate Iran; Iran would retaliate; and at the end of the day you have to go back to the negotiating table to find the solution."


(note: the full article does not repeat the summary)

If indeed Iran is months away from a nuclear capability, the pressure on Israel to strike at Iran will be immense. It is literally a matter of short-term national survival for Israel: Iran has pledged, recently, to "wipe Israel off the map" and, a while ago, that their first nuclear test would be in Israel. Israel is tiny; unlike the US, Israel could not absorb a nuclear blow and continue to exist more or less unchanged. And this means that Israel is likely to strike first. But how? As Officers' Club notes:

Will the Israelis use nuclear weapons preemptively or will they go conventional? Will America join them? Or will the U.S. act on its own accord? How would a joint U.S.-Israeli attack on an Arab state fare in the Middle East? Would it help or hurt democratic progress in that region?

Unfortunately -due the Iranian refusal to play ball with negotiators- we may be hearing the answers to those questions more sooner than later.


It is unlikely that Israel could mount a sufficiently-destructive conventional strike on Iran's nuclear program, because of the distance from Israel and the characteristics of the critical nuclear sites (some of which are deeply buried). This means that either the US will strike with Israel or to keep Israel from striking, or the Israeli strike will be nuclear. And at that point, we will have lost the third conjecture's bet, and it's possible we'd be well down the road to losing the second.

Posted by jeff at 3:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Sci-Fi Equation

Steph asks: "There must be some mathematical constant that describes the relationship between the quality of a science fiction show and how quickly it gets cancelled. Mark, Jeff ... can't you work that out?"

Mark provides some datapoints in the comments:

Star Trek: 28 seasons (all incarnations)
Doctor Who: 28 seasons
Stargate: 11 seasons (SG-1+Atlantis)
Babylon 5: 6 seasons (B5+Crusade)
Farscape: 4 seasons

I dunno - I think it's a crap-shoot.

I don't think it's entirely a crapshoot. But first, we need more datapoints:

Space: Above and Beyond: 1 season
Firefly: < 1 season
V: 2 seasons
Space:1999: 2 seasons
Battlestar: Galactica (original): 2? seasons
Galactica 1980: < 1 season
Battlestar: Galactica (new):2+ seasons
Quantum Leap: 5 seasons
Probe: < 1 season
Buck Rogers: 2.5 seasons
Sliders: 5 seasons

And we need to disaggregate Star Trek and B5 as well:

TOS: 3 seasons
TNG: 7 seasons
DS9: 7 seasons
Voyager: 7 seasons
Enterprise: 4 seasons

B5: 5 seasons
Crusade: 1 season

The variables would have to include:

Writing Quality: w
Acting Quality, Directing Quality and Characterization: a
Visual Quality, including special effects: v
Plot and Believability, Universe Quality, Immersion: p
Consistency: c
Originality: o
Name Recognition: n
IQ Demanded of Audience: i

Writing quality (w) includes technical aspects, dialog and the like. The scale is 1 (Voyager) to 10 (Babylon 5).

Acting Quality, Directing and Characterization (a) includes how the show hangs together, whether the characters arouse emotional responses, whether it's obvious that you're watching acting instead of appearing to be real people and so forth. The scale is 1 (truly horrid) to 10 (Firefly).

Visual Quality (v) includes special effects; the effect of the costuming, backgrounds and sets; the appearance of the ships and tools and buildings; and the quality of the camera work. A key point here is the grungy space ship factor: the Millennium Falcon, Serenity and the original Enterprise are obviously working ships, while the Voyager somehow is fit for an admiral's inspection while fighting for its life on the other side of the galaxy. The former is more human than the latter. This scale is from 1 (Flash Gordon serial) to 10 (Blade Runner).

Plot and Believability, Universe Quality, Immersion (p) includes all of the things that help you lose yourself in the universe created. Does the plot (or plots) make sense by itself or is it a vehicle for hanging geeky ideas on? Is the Universe believable, trite, or simply pointless? Can you feel what it would be like to live there? If it's not immersive, is it obviously campy or did they just fail to get it? The scale is from 1 (Galactica 1980) to 10 (Farscape).

Consistency (c) measures whether or not the show flows or keeps jerking you around. For example, having the characteristics of a ship vary in contradictory ways, or the implicit history be wildly off, can throw an otherwise fine show (ST:TNG suffered badly from this). The scale is from 1 (Galactica 1980) to 10 (Farscape).

Originality (o) simply notes whether you've seen all this before. The scale is from 1 (ST: Voyager) to 10 (Space: Above and Beyond).

Name Recognition (n) is simply whether or not the show is famous, or can piggyback off of a famous show. Or, for that matter, whether the writer or director or lead actor is famous. The scale is from 1 (Space: Above and Beyond) to 10 (every Star Trek except TOS).

IQ (i) is simply how smart you have to be to get what the show is driving at. Any moron can watch a show that is only about childish interpersonal relationships or mindless repetition of technobabble, but a show with complex relationships, long-lasting and half-revealed story lines and many cultural allusions requires a fairly intelligent viewer. 100 is average.

Before we can develop any kind of conclusions, we have to assign ratings and look for patterns. These are my own ratings, and some of them are pretty shaky. As a result, feel free to suggest changes, and also additional data points.

ShowSeasonsWritingActing,etcVisualPlotConsistencyOriginalityBrandingIQ
Doctor Who28652931061110
Stargate11????????
ST:TNG746867421090
ST:DS97468775990
ST:Voyager7238361880
Quantum Leap57778794100
Sliders578775364100
Babylon 5510101010995120
Farscape410101099104120
ST: Enterprise4358444980
ST: TOS37667393100
Buck Rogers2.5435453380
V27887893100
Battlestar: Galactica (new)2+????????
Space: 199926776785100
Battlestar: Galactica (original)26688677100
Space: Above and Beyond11091099101125
Crusade1??????7?
Firefly<1101010109107125
Galactica 1980<1124321680
Probe<19879994110

1Dr. Who branded itself after a few years. While it came in with nothing, it eventually became a fan favorite, and that drove its further popularity.
2ST:TNG started out rehashing story lines from ST:TOS, and didn't venture as far as TOS for several seasons, but did eventually develop some ideas worth thinking about, including the plot lines with Q and the Borg.
3Sliders fell apart in the last couple of seasons; the first three were excellent.

Posted by jeff at 1:31 PM | TrackBack

December 5, 2005

Football for the Non-Sports Fan

Stephen has posted The 8 Facts You Need To Know To Sound Brilliant About Football for Work Conversations:

Years ago, a friend of mine, an non-sports geek like myself, became concerned that he couldn't participate in a lot of the small talk conversations at work because those conversations almost inevitably opened with football before moving on to other topics. It was the opener de facto and the key to the "old boys network." Of course, as he didn't like football, actually learning about it was not something he wanted to do. So, after many test conversations at jobs, he and I worked out the absolute minimum set of data necessary to get through football season.

Now, Stephen lives in Austin - the place of all that is evil in college football (The Texas Longhorns), but is otherwise a very interesting place. Since it's a college town, college sports is probably a major topic. In Dallas, however, it's the Cowboys. When I moved here, I was amazed at the lack of attention to college sports. I grew up in college sports centered towns, so D/FW was a culture shock in this regard. Sports updates on the news are probably about 50% Cowboys/NFL, 20% other local pro teams, 15% high school and 15% college.

However, Stephen's system works remarkably well even in a pro town. I'm a college football nut, but I really don't care for the Pros much. However, on Monday mornings I usually manage to catch a couple of radio broadcasts about Sunday's game. If I catch: 1) the score, 2) the critical 1-2 plays everyone will be talking about and 3) the current overall/division record, I find I can do remarkably well in the conversations that usually start: "How 'bout them Cowboys!"

Note to Stephen: knowing the name of the coach is usually a good thing in the long run.

Posted by Nemo at 5:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 3, 2005

PVT Dwayne Turner, USA

McQ continues his excellent series on American heroes with PVT Dwayne Turner. McQ quotes from a warchronicle.com post to show what PVT Turner did. I would like to quote from Jack Kelly:

I'm going to tell you about Pvt. Dwayne Turner, a medic with the 101st Airborne Division, because it's unlikely you will read about him anywhere else.

A year ago April, Turner's unit came under grenade and small arms attack about 30 miles south of Baghdad. Though he was wounded with shrapnel in both legs in the initial attack, Turner repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire to drag wounded soldiers to shelter and to provide them with medical attention. He was shot twice more while treating 16 men, two of whom would have died were it not for his heroism. "No one is going to die on my watch," he said. He was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest decoration for valor.


PVT Turner himself almost died of blood loss from his injuries. In addition to the shrapnel, he was shot in the arm (which broke his arm) and in the leg. Despite these injuries, PVT Turner repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire with no regard to his own safety to treat the wounded, and bring them under cover.

PVT Turner and his Sergeant, Neil Mulvaney, were interviewed on CNN by Catherine Callaway. Here is an excerpt:

CALLAWAY: [] Sergeant, you arrived at the scene a couple of minutes after the fighting began, right?

MULVANEY: Yes, ma'am. We got a call that we had come under fire and we rolled in. We were about a minute out with the FLA, which Turner's actually on my crew. He volunteered to go in and replace one of the other medics. When they took fire, we came in under fire. Our FLA was immediately hit with small arms fire and fragmentation. As I came to the door, it was a bad mess for the medic, several casualties lying on the ground, and Private Turner was working on several of the casualties with another medic that was also wounded during the incident. As we come in we automatically go to work on the most serious, and probably several minutes before we got back to where Turner was.

When we came back to Turner, I had to put him up against the ground, and we noticed he was bleeding quite a bit. He was getting light headed and dizzy from the loss of blood, so we bandaged him up, gave him some morphine. We didn't know how critical he was until we started actually stripping him down to see what his wounds were. From there we started medical evac, we had a helicopter on wait. And as we came out of the building with him, he's trying to help us get some guys out, hopping on one leg. And the helicopter couldn't land at first because we were taking too much fire, so we actually had to go 500 meters down road to get him and six others on the helicopter. But it seemed like a long time, but there's only a short period of time from the initial attack.

CALLAWAY: Sergeant Mulvaney, you had to think -- they call him Doc Turner, I understand. What is Doc Turner doing? The man's bleeding. You really had to restrain him, literally, physically had to restrain him and shoot him up with morphine to keep him from going back out there and rescuing more of his comrades. Isn't that right?

MULVANEY: Yes, ma'am, when we first came in, him and the other medic were fighting over who was wounded the worst. So we had to put them up against the wall and say, that's enough, you've done enough. It's time for us to do our work.

[snip]

CALLAWAY: And you've been awarded this incredible honor with the Silver Star. It has to feel just terrific.

TURNER: It feels good that soldiers got to see their families again.


Thank you, PVT Turner, for your heroic actions.

Posted by jeff at 11:01 AM | TrackBack

December 2, 2005

What Bad Book Am I?

Via PoliBlog



take the WHAT BAD BOOK ARE YOU test.
and go to mewing.net. not as good as reading a good book, but way better than a bad one.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this result. Maybe just the fact that I'm old-fashioned.

Posted by Nemo at 8:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Get a Frickin' Grip, People!

The Jawa Report has a horrible point that I'm not even sure they realize: everyone needs to get a frickin' grip on the whole Christmas/holiday thing. Let's take it from the top.

This time of the year coincides with several actual holidays involving the giving of presents and the celebration of rebirth. These include not only Christmas, but Chanukah and Yule. In addition, Christmas is also celebrated secularly by many atheists and other non-Christians. (And, for the matter, the racial "holiday" of Kwanzaa, which I still don't get the point of.) Now, it turns out that the religious holidays and the secular celebration of Christmas have a certain number of core similarities, and it is perfectly reasonable for retailers not to want to annoy their non-Christian customers.

So the people who are getting annoyed about calling it a holiday tree in the store, or holiday ornaments, or what have you, need to get a frickin' grip: it's not going to kill you to realize that not everyone is a Christian, and many of those people celebrate holidays at this time of the year as well. Hey, while we're at it, let's take a look at the celebration of Christmas:

  • Christmas tree: Pagan (N. European, to be exact, and the ornaments evolved from hanging apples on the tree to encourage the trees to bear fruit again)
  • festival of lights: Pagan (Scandinavian, IIRC) and Jewish
  • Deck the Halls, and holly/ivy in general: Pagan (Celtic, to be precise)
  • sacrificial god born in the dead of Winter to save his people: Pagan (Mithraism, which was commonly practiced by Roman soldiers, and others; it's a pretty common Pagan theme)
  • eating ham to relieve the mid-Winter fast that happened before we had year-round availability of fresh food: Pagan (Norse, to be precise; go listen to the Boar's Head Carol)

But it's also perfectly reasonable for stores to recognize that 70% or more of Americans are Christians, and most of the rest were raised as Christians. (This includes both my wife and I, who were raised as formless and somewhat non-observant Christians, and who are now Pagans.) Even a lot of non-Christians celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. (This includes us; we celebrate Yule as a religious holiday, with stories and activities talking about the changing of the seasons and the cycle of the Wheel of the Year, and celebrate Christmas with gift-giving and gathering with family and friends.) So people who get all bent out of shape when they see Christmas trees advertised as such in stores need to get a frickin' grip. Let's take a look at the secular celebration of Christmas:

  • Santa Claus: a take on Saint Nicolas, a Christian (priest, if I recall) that did great works of charity in mid-Winter, like feeding those who didn't have enough food (the lumps of coal were fuel, people)
  • gift-giving: related to the idea of Christian charity expressed by Santa Clause, and to laud the coming sacrifice of the Christian god for his people

So let's all show a little Christian charity, Pagan reverence, Jewish joy at simple survival for another year, and secular tolerance. And while we're at it, let's grow up a bit, okay? Surely, that will make everyone more satisfied, no matter how they celebrate (or don't) the mid-Winter festivals, holidays and holy days.

Posted by jeff at 1:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Overblown Rhetoric

What is it about the Iraq war — or President Bush in general — that leads to overblown and unsupportable rhetoric? I used to have a lot of respect for Martin Van Creveld, a military historian who has written some really good analysis, but what is this? First, Van Creveld lays out a short surrender:

The number of American casualties in Iraq is now well more than 2,000, and there is no end in sight. Some two-thirds of Americans, according to the polls, believe the war to have been a mistake. And congressional elections are just around the corner.

What had to come, has come. The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon — and at what cost. In this respect, as in so many others, the obvious parallel to Iraq is Vietnam.

Confronted by a demoralized army on the battlefield and by growing opposition at home, in 1969 the Nixon administration started withdrawing most of its troops in order to facilitate what it called the "Vietnamization" of the country. The rest of America's forces were pulled out after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated a "peace settlement" with Hanoi. As the troops withdrew, they left most of their equipment to the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam — which just two years later, after the fall of Saigon, lost all of it to the communists.

Clearly this is not a pleasant model to follow, but no other alternative appears in sight.


Other than the facts that the military is not demoralized and no one is showing up at anti-war demonstrations, it's just like Viet Nam. Right, yeah, got it.

Then, having surrendered, Van Creveld notes that we cannot flee Iraq as we fled Viet Nam, leaving our equipment to the Iraqi government, because we can't afford to leave the equipment (at least the big pieces). This is followed by a huge narrative that I can only describe as a Leftist wet dream, with tales of confused routs towards Baghdad and then southwards, harried on all sides like the British fiasco in Afghanistan in 1841, taking massive casualties in their desperate flight. Behind the retreat, "Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war" and [a]ll this is inevitable!

Then, Van Creveld says that we can't abandon the region. We will need an ongoing security presence to counter the nightmare resulting from our withdrawal:

Yet a complete American withdrawal is not an option; the region, with its vast oil reserves, is simply too important for that. A continued military presence, made up of air, sea and a moderate number of ground forces, will be needed.

First and foremost, such a presence will be needed to counter Iran, which for two decades now has seen the United States as "the Great Satan." Tehran is certain to emerge as the biggest winner from the war — a winner that in the not too distant future is likely to add nuclear warheads to the missiles it already has. In the past, Tehran has often threatened the Gulf States. Now that Iraq is gone, it is hard to see how anybody except the United States can keep the Gulf States, and their oil, out of the mullahs' clutches.

A continued American military presence will be needed also, because a divided, chaotic, government-less Iraq is very likely to become a hornets' nest. From it, a hundred mini-Zarqawis will spread all over the Middle East, conducting acts of sabotage and seeking to overthrow governments in Allah's name.


No mention is made of how we might use any such stay-behind force — let alone where we would base it — given that we'd just run from Iraq, causing the problems he foresees. If we ran from Iraq because of 2000 casualties and bad public opinion, where would the will to take on a nuclear-armed Iran or armies of terrorists (who would not, after all, be attacking the US, but other Muslims) come from? Oh, except that if we leave a military presence there, the terrorists would be attacking Americans; it's just that we would have foreclosed any ability to respond to the attacks.

But the crowning achievement in foolishness is the conclusion:

For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men. If convicted, they'll have plenty of time to mull over their sins.

Really? The most foolish war in 2014 years? Worse than Germany's attack on Russia, or Japan's attack on the US in WWII? Worse than the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or the British invasion of Afghanistan? Worse than Agincourt? More foolish than the War of Jenkins' Ear?

This is not serious military analysis: it is blind, unthinking panic.

UPDATE: Wretchard has similar thoughts on Van Creveld, while taking a broader view about the difference between words and reality.

Posted by jeff at 10:14 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 1, 2005

If I Were President

Dave Schuler points out something too often missed: most of what the executive branch is doing is actually the responsibility of the Congress. Actually, that's unfair: much of what the executive branch is doing is actually unconstitutional, and much of the remainder is actually the responsibility of Congress. So, with that in mind, here are some things I would do if I were President, and which my wife insists (probably correctly) would get me assassinated in short order for doing — and by the way, if you want my vote for President, promising to do even a few of these would almost guarantee it.

  • The Congress is responsible for making law, deciding the budget, and so forth. I would not propose a budget, on the grounds that the law compelling the executive to do so is unconstitutional: it is a usurpation of Congress' power to set the budget (notwithstanding that it is the Congress that is usurping itself to avoid responsibility).
  • I would pardon anyone incarcerated in Federal prisons strictly on drug charges (not on violence in relation to drug possession and distribution, mind you) where there was no actual transfer of drugs across state or international borders by the imprisoned person, on the grounds that the government has no power to control commerce (or even, as in the Raich case, non-commercial non-transactions) that does not cross state or international boundaries. I would actively seek out other unconstitutional laws and pardon those currently serving time under them. As to those incarcerated for moving drugs across state or national borders, much as I might think the "war on drugs" is counterproductive, Congress clearly has the power to regulate what commodities move across state or international lines resulting in an exchange of values. Too bad for you, my disagreement with the policy wouldn't absolve me from enforcing the parts of it that are constitutionally allowed.
  • I would refuse to allow any executive department to publish any regulation not pertaining to matters internal to that department, or constitutionally reserved for the executive. This is Congress' job, and it is wrong for the executive to usurp that power, even if Congress really really wants the executive to do so. In fact, I would declare that after 1 year (to give the Congress time to pass any needed laws — choose carefully guys: you're short on time), I would no longer allow executive departments to enforce regulations outside of their own departments unless those regulations were in fact explicitly set by law, and found to be constitutional.
  • I would pull US troops out of any country where they were not deployed pursuant to an act of Congress, and those that were pursuant to an act of Congress but which are no longer in our interests, unless the troops were not in a combat situation (or potential combat situation) and were invited to be there by the government of the country where they are stationed. In actual fact, I'm not certain that this covers any troops currently deployed, except possibly in Kosovo, where I'm not particularly sure our national interests are being served.
  • I would refuse to deploy troops abroad in future without an explicit declaration of war. While laws giving the President the power to use force (such as Kosovo or Iraq) meet the Constitution's requirement that Congress declare war, I would demand explicit declarations to ensure that the Congress could not backpedal years later and blame it all on me. Further, I would immediately seek a declaration of war against all jihadi and militant Islamist groups (identified by ideology, not by name) and any countries that support them (again, not necessarily identified by name, but by their actions). Failing that, I would demand a declaration of war against certain named groups and named countries. Failing that, I would state that I did not have the power to fight the war, because Congress refused to grant it, and that therefore the country should be prepared for the logical consequences, which I would do everything possible within my constitutionally-granted powers to avoid or ameliorate.
  • I would ask for the resignations of, and refuse to appoint replacements for, every political appointee in every executive department whose duties are not set forth in the Constitution. This might actually leave little more than State, Defense, Commerce, Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security and parts of the rest with appointed leaders, but I'm OK with that. I would submit legislation to abolish most of the executive departments, rolling their constitutionally-mandated functions into a smaller number of departments and simply eliminating the rest. I would not expect that the Congress would pass such a law, but I would feel obligated to propose it.
  • I would certainly propose radical reforms to taxes and to certain programs like Social Security and Medicaid. While the Congress has the power to tax, even to impose direct and unevenly-distributed taxes, the system could be made much more reasonable without diminishing revenue, but this cannot be done with fiddling at the margins. Programs like Social Security and Medicaid are too intrinsic to our society after 70 years to simply eliminate or cut drastically, no matter how wrong they are. However, they should be converted away from "pay as you go", made optional (with the consequence that your non-participation absolves the government of responsibility for supporting you if you end up destitute as a result) and for those who cannot support themselves for various reasons beyond their control (such as those too crippled or ill to work), replaced with a direct subsidy program that doesn't try to hide that it is redistribution of wealth behind flighty rhetoric.
  • I would relish the fights in the courts.
  • I would calmly accept my impeachment and removal from office.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention vetoing every single law that contains anything unconstitutional. Along with an explanation, of course. It should be fun passing budgets in such a case.

Posted by jeff at 4:22 PM | TrackBack