March 31, 2004

This is Troubling

This is troubling. This is very troubling, indeed.

Posted by Jeff at 06:20 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Nuance

Despite the title, this post is not about John Kerry. It is instead about America, and in particular America's way of addressing long-term problems. Steven Den Beste has a typically-provocative essay on how Europeans (in particular) misunderstand America. For the most part, I agree with him. I do have one issue to raise with his essay, though, and this quote is at its core:

So they discount the fact that America remained steadfast during the entire Cold War despite both parties electing Presidents during that interval. There were differences in style and approach towards how the Cold War should be handled, but never any doubt that it would be handled, no matter which party held the White House.

I think that Steven underestimates the differences between how the two major parties would handle the Terror Wars, and this may be a projection of underestimating the differences during the Cold War. These are important matters, not small nuanced differences.

To illustrate, consider the difference between Johnson (don't put out a winning effort in Viet Nam, because it would endanger his domestic programs) and Richard Nixon (who ran on ending the war, and did, but in the process widened the war to give the South Viet Namese a chance, only to be cut off by the post-Watergate Democrat-controlled Congress); or between Jimmy Carter (who by and large favored appeasement and aid that would have had the Soviet Union still going) and Ronald Reagan (who initiated the programs that caused Soviet collapse). These are not matters of minor emphasis; they are major differences of strategy.

To project this into the Terror Wars, consider the probable courses of the two parties, or at least of the two current candidates for the presidency. George Bush's strategy appears to be:

  • active overt and covert warfare against Islamist terrorist groups,
  • active overt warfare against the most prominent state sponsors of terrorism;
  • aggressive law enforcement and economic actions to weaken or remove terrorist support in countries that we couldn't politically afford to go to war against (such as France),
  • an attempt at the cultural equivalent of guerilla warfare, by providing an example of a free Arab/Muslim society in Iraq.

On the other hand, it is becoming clear to me that Kerry would be vastly different in many areas:
  • Kerry would continue active overt warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, but would likely lessen the overt warfare, particularly in Pakistan and Africa.
  • Overt warfare against state sponsors of terrorism would be off the table, unless a major attack on US soil could be directly and incontrovertibly traced to a particular country's support. (FYI, state sponsorship of terrorism is rarely so direct; generally there are multiple small threads from many countries which weave together to enable an attack. In addition to Afghanistan, do we attack Germany, Canada, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq or Syria for 9/11? Do we attack ourselves, since the terrorists were based here for some time?) It may even be the case that Kerry would not undertake overt warfare after a major attack unless the UN supported it.
  • Kerry would likely continue law enforcement and intelligence activities against terrorist groups, but would likely not put effective pressure on countries (particularly European countries) who were uncooperative.
  • Kerry would likely stick it out in Iraq, but without the stick of "and you're next", the ability of the example to change the other Arab/Muslim cultures would be much lessened.

In some ways, Steven is correct: a Kerry foreign policy would have much of the same broad surface appearance that the Bush foreign policy does. Kerry would acknowlege terrorism as a major problem, and would not withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan. But on every other issue, his response would likely be much weaker, if at all, than President Bush's response has been. The effect of this would be to return us very nearly to a Clinton-style foreign policy, with the emphasis all on domestic issues, and fighting terrorism seen by the executive branch mostly in terms of how it affects votes in key districts.

The result would be disastrous. Even if another Republican administration - or a more savvy and dedicated Democrat administration - were to later renew the fight strongly, our enemies would be encouraged to hold out. They would be convinced that we do have short attention spans, and will eventually give them time to regroup. In the meantime, our coalition partners would face declining support from America, combined with their current active internal opposition movements, which would make it very difficult for parties which take a similar view to President Bush's to remain in power.

Posted by Jeff at 03:54 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (9)

March 27, 2004

Where we Stand

It's time, I think, for a realistic assessment of the Terror Wars:

At this time, perhaps 10% of the world's Muslim community - slightly higher in Europe and somewhat higher in the US, but less in Africa, Asia and the SW Pacific - support the idea of liberalizing the whole Arab/Muslim world, treating Islam as a religion rather than an all-encompassing religio-political ideology, and modernizing the Arab/Muslim societies. Significantly higher numbers of Muslims believe, as one recent poll of British Muslims put it, "living as a Palestinian could have driven her to become a suicide bomber".

In actual fact, it is probably the case at this point that opinion of the US is worse than it was before 9/11, and the pro-jihad opinion is more entrenched. However, this is widely misinterpreted. Certainly, President Bush's and Prime Minister Blair's critics (well, let's just get it over with and say the critics of the idea that free countries should be able to defend themselves, and to promote the idea of freedom for others) have used this change in opinion to cast the attempts of the US and its allies (should I say coalition partners, to distinguish them from, say, France?) to end the threat of resurgent Islamism as a failure at best and a tragedy at worst. But is that a valid interpretation?

Anti-Americanism is hardly new in Europe. Even at the height of the Cold War, France was barely above 50/50 in support of the US. The postmodernism and transnational progressivism movements have weakened support of the West within the West itself - weakened the idea that the Enlightenment values of individual freedom and self-determination are even laudable values to hold. And it's not exactly as if the US is a new target in the Arab/Muslim world (we were called the Great Satan long before the advent of President Bush). But these feelings were by and large intellectual exercises, until 9/11 showed the world the definitive way to express them.

What has been going on since 9/11, with opinion increasingly hardening against the US and its allies, is merely a definition process. Those who believe that individual rights and freedoms are an anathema - whether Islamists or Leftists - have seen definitively that the US and its allies will stand against them in defense of freedom. The hope on the Left and among the Islamists was originally that the US could be deterred from Afghanistan, then that the US could be deterred from attacking Iraq. When the latter failed, it was incontrovertibly shown that the US intended to reform the Muslim world.

This would be a loss for the Islamists, as they depend on a radicalized and oppressed population; freedom for Muslims would lose them thier recruits. It would also be a loss for the Left, as they depend upon the idea that capitalism - or at least the individual freedoms that make capitalism workable - makes things worse (at least for them, since they want to control others, and free people are not tolerant of being controlled); freedom for Muslims followed by the Arab/Muslim world modernizing and becoming more liberal and more successful would show that capitalism and freedom work, and the Left would lose its recruits.

And so we find (and it's not a new observation) that those who believe in personal freedom have two distinct enemies: the Islamists, who believe in imposition of totalitarianism by force; and the Left, who believe in the ascendence of totalitarianism by "the logic of history" or by bureaucratic procedures or by moral persuasion.

Let me make clear that while both of these forces are enemies to freedom, they are not equivalent. It appears that there is an alliance of convenience between the two groups. Witness, for example, the Leftists' condemnation of Israel's killing of the founder of Hamas, and condoning Hamas' bombings of buses full of schoolchildren; or the way that the Islamists are temporarily backing off of Spain since they got what they wanted there - for the moment. But such an alliance of convenience does not mean that the two groups are easily conflated: the Islamists use violence as their tool, while the Leftists use rhetoric.

The road ahead is long - probably decades long. We are at the very beginning of the process. There have been essentially two important changes since 9/11: the US has forced organizations and countries to choose sides, and we have begun the process of combatting Islamism by bringing a degree of freedom to two Arab/Muslim countries - most importantly to Iraq, an important and centrally-placed Arab nation. We have also begun to engage the Left, with a bevy of more freedom-minded folks actively arguing for the benefits of Liberty, though this is still far from general.

At this point, I see several paths we have to take in order to preserve the notion of individual Liberty:

  • We must continue to engage Islamism by liberalizing Arab and Muslim countries. This means that Iraq must not be the last such action. Iran in particular will likely have to be invaded, unless its own people succeed in removing the Islamists from power. This means, too, that we must allow the Islamists to win elections if they can do it fairly. But we must not allow them to be immune from the consequences of their actions. An Islamist government in Iraq, for example, which tried to impose Shari'a should be told in no uncertain terms that such is not allowed, and should be removed if they proceed in any case to do so. Democracy does not mean one man, one vote, one time; and individual Liberty does not include the liberty to take away the rights of others.
  • We must encourage and reward reform movements within Islam and the Arab nations.
  • We must be prepared for the fight against Islamism to get much dirtier. It may become necessary to kill the imams and other religious figures who spread Islamism. As the examples of Mullah Omar, Sheik Yassin and the Ayatollah Khomenei show, the Islamists make no distinction between religion and secular governance, and we must not allow our traditional deference to religious leaders to blind us to the fact that these people are frequently secular (in the sense of providing political and other non-religious direction) as well as religious leaders.
  • We must engage the Left by removing its shelters from reality (particularly in university liberal arts faculties), reducing its means of indoctrination (particularly with media competition and removing schools from government control or requiring particular things (history, economics, logic, etc) to be taught to a particular standard), by putting them on the defensive (pull up most of the silly environmental regulations (leaving the useful ones in place), and do the same with a host of other Leftist pet projects, and then let them spend their time on that rather than the war), and most importantly by engaging in the debate in public. We need to reduce the size of government by the simple measure of actually following the Constitution in all its particulars, and amending it where what it says does not match what we want our government to be like. This is difficult; it should be. It should not be possible to effectively amend the Constitution by ignoring its plain language.
  • There are a lot of websites and authors, and more and more there are counter-demonstrations. We need also to be organizing demonstrations of patriotism, and in support of freedom generally, especially when not connected with particular politicians. We need to be sponsoring art (particularly movies and big-network TV shows, which get the most widespread dissemination) that presents a pro-Western, tolerant, capitalist, secular and logical viewpoint as admirable. (Fine examples of this include James Burke's 1978 series Connections, about how technologies come about and the impact they have on society; or Cyberchase, which teaches logic.)

I don't necessarily hold any of these as more important than the others. But they are all going to be necessary in the decades ahead, unless we are prepared to engage in or be the victims of genocide.

Posted by Jeff at 01:24 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

March 26, 2004

Argument and Rhetoric

Francis Porretto has an article (about how webs of information are limited by their most limited nodes - and how this applies to various ways of passing information) which bounces at one point off of this post of mine (about fundamental problems with the Internet's structure). Now, I'm going to bounce off on yet another tangent from Francis' article:

Here we can see the significance of the anonymous denigration or offering of falsehood as fact. An honest, courteous man would never do such things. He wants his arguments to stand on their merits; if the merits are insufficient, it's best for all that the argument be refuted. But he who is less than honest or courteous will have no qualms about spreading falsehoods or slandering his adversaries under a cloak of anonymity. Concealment of his identity spares him both retaliation and the accumulation of a record of bad faith: advantages in any information war.

This points out the difference between argument and rhetoric, and the essential weakness of rhetoric.

In an argument, each participant wishes to reach a conclusion suitable to all. The process for doing this is a logical sequence of ideas, and each party to the argument attempts both to establish his logic and to refute the logic of his opponent.

There are situations where no definitive conclusion is possible, because each party to the argument has equally-valid logic, but the premises (that is to say, their assumptions which are not subject to logical refutation) for their arguments are incompatible and either the premises are not subject to evidentiary examination, or no evidence is at hand: an impasse. An honest disputant in an argument, whose premises are subject to evidentiary validation and fail of that validation, would be required logically to submit to the falseness of his argument (though not necessarily to adopt his opponent's position).

Rhetoric is, at its base level, just a set of verbal tools for making arguments well. However, if this rhetoric is coupled with lack of principle, the dishonest participant can totally undermine the possibility of reaching conclusion: his goal is neither to persuade nor to agree, but to get his way regardless. This is very common in political contests, for example, as the current example of Richard Clarke should well show. This unwillingness to lose the argument, coupled with a weak argument or provably-false premises, in addition to earning Noam Chomsky his livelihood, leads to the argumentative fallacies of ad hominem, tu quoque and others. (The fact that these have Latin names should tell you how old such rhetorical tricks are.)

In the end, those who are wedded to honest argument would tend to dismiss those who just want to win, regardless of merit; after all, they will be proven wrong in time, so why worry? Well, we have to remember that logic is not taught in schools, and reason is hardly considered a noble virtue any more (or, if it is, it's certainly more observed in the breach). The real game of the dishonest rhetoric is to avoid losing the argument today; and so we get this. The same issue, a year after it originally appears, finds the dishonest making opposite arguments, and claiming that their opponent was wrong all along.

And then you get this, a comment that came in today on an old post of mine:

you're brainwashed about the Palestinian/Israeli issue. to say this:

"For a perfect example of why no compassionate person should ever consider giving fiscal, moral, politcal, legal, or even rhetorical support to the Palestinian cause, just read this, and consider that the Palestinians believe that Israeli children are legitimate "military" targets, because they could one day grow up to serve in the Israeli Army."

you express a wholesale ignorance as if you've never freed yourself from the psychic leash of CNN, Fox , seeBS etc. this is the most heavily denied subject in the US because Israel is umbilically tied to US tax money.


It gets worse from here. As best I can follow it, the argument path is:
  1. I am wrong about Palestinians targetting children, because
  2. Palestinians are not free to choose their actions,
  3. because Israel refuses to let Palestinians randomly slaughter Israelis when they can do so without randomly slaughtering Palestinians.
  4. This is proven because Japanese kids who are bullied and overworked commit suicide.
  5. So, the solution to the Israeli/Palestinian issue is "an army for peace that would swoop in and force a solution" by compelling Israel to accept attacks on them until Israel has raised the Palestinian standard of living as high as the Israeli one.

If there's an honest argument there, I can't find it.

Posted by Jeff at 04:03 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 25, 2004

Idiots for Gun Control - But I Repeat Myself

I don't really know what to do with this (from Ravenwood):

The Senate renewed the historic 1994 ban on assault rifles by a thin margin of 52 for to 47 against. In another vote of 53 to 46 the bill past through denying gun shows the ability to sell firearms without doing any form of back round checks. Both bills are a continued step in the right direction concerning gun laws in the United States.

I could talk about the joys of public schooling ("back round checks"?, "the bill past through denying gun shows the ability to sell firearms"?), the need for editors in blogs to bring them up to the standards of traditional journalism, or the idiocy of the anti-gun types. There's such a rich panoply of holes to punch in this, I'm unable to determine where to start.

I'm just going to leave you with one phrase from the article: "tools of human assignation". Perhaps he means this (not for children nor work-safe).

Posted by Jeff at 02:33 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Mirror, Mirror

Has anyone else noticed the strange tendency on the Left these days to blame people for the Left's mistaken before-hand impressions?

Example:

Left: Iraq is not an imminent threat; we cannot attack them.
President Bush: It will be too late to attack Iraq if we wait until the threat is imminent.
[time delay]
Left: Bush LIED: he claimed the threat was imminent!

OK, that's an easy one, but I'm seeing these more and more lately. Such as:

Left: Terrorism isn't a war issue; it's a law enforcement issue.
President Clinton (before he left office; he has commendably changed his statements since 9/11): Terrorism isn't a war issue; it's a law enforcement issue.
President Bush (before 9/11): Terrorism may be a law enforcement issue, and that is how we're treating it for now, but we have to see if that's the right way to approach the issue.
[time delay, during which is 9/11]
President Bush: Well, it's clearly a war issue now.
Left: Bush LIED: he claimed terrorism was a law enforcement issue, and now he's treating it as a war!

There are many more. The phenomenon is interesting; especially because the press in general does not call people on this kind of illogic.

Posted by Jeff at 01:46 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Let's Elect Kerry...

...and fight the Terror Wars in the courts.

Posted by Jeff at 10:19 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 24, 2004

The Long March Through the Institutions

Francis Porretto doesn't mention Gramsci by name, but it is Gramsci's "long march through the institutions" - an avowedly socialist movement - that brought us to the point where even math doesn't necessarily have right and wrong answers...when it's taught in the government schools.

(By the way, Plano is not far from where I live. It's a wealthy district, with very well-funded schools. This is a choice deliberately made, not a compulsion forced upon a district which couldn't afford to go their own way.)

Posted by Jeff at 09:09 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Clarke Inconsistencies

What is it about writing a partisan book during an election season that makes someone retract everything they've said on an issue previously? Well, Richard Clarke certainly appears to be a good match for the Kerry campaign: the Bush administration ignored terrorism by doing exactly what Clinton was doing, while reviewing the strategy and increasing funding by a factor of five.

Bleah: 7 more months of this crap!

UPDATE (3/25): Also see the Washington Post, hardly a right-wing cheerleading squad, where Rich Lowry quite convincingly shows Clarke's inconsistencies.

Posted by Jeff at 04:25 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 23, 2004

Israel and Palestine Explained Perfectly

Karmic Inquisition explains the situation in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict perfectly. Please go read it; it will clarify your thinking.

Posted by Jeff at 11:29 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Tax Refund

InstaPundit has some responses on what people did with their tax refunds. I kept my new company afloat for another month, to give receipts time to catch up with expenses, thus helping to continue the employment of three (highly-skilled) people.

Top that.

Posted by Jeff at 11:18 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

March 22, 2004

French Foreign Policy

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has a really interesting article about French foreign policy. For me, it really clarified a lot of issues about how France approaches the world.

Posted by Jeff at 11:20 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

And Good Riddance

It's good to see Yassin dead, but I have to wonder about the Israelis passing up this target rich environment. I would at least have seriously considered a major land operation to surround the funeral and arrest or kill all of the terrorists who attended. They were armed, and there would have been a fight, but in the long run such an operation would dramatically reduce the total deaths.

On another note: what's with AP? "Three more Palestinians were killed in Gaza later Monday in clashes with Israeli troops, and one was killed while handling explosives." "[O]ne was killed while handling explosives"???!!! It's like there was no connection between him building a bomb and his sudden death. Or maybe someone snuck in and killed him while he was building the bomb. Yeah, that's plausible.

Posted by Jeff at 09:17 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 20, 2004

Dr. Seuss v. the Fascists

Rev. Sensing points out that Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was a political cartoonist before he started writing children's books. Just like the gutless of 1941, the gutless of today just want to keep handing out lollipops.

Posted by Jeff at 05:40 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Dominos

If you believe that the root cause of Arab/Muslim terrorism is the shame of Arab/Muslim societal failure, then it is becoming more and more clear that the war in Iraq was a brilliant strategic move.

Posted by Jeff at 09:21 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 19, 2004

Sic Transit Gloria PowerBook

Steph had a glass of wine by the computer last night, reading email.

Enter Lachlan the Destructor, and his foot of doom (note: he's not much taller than the desk - this was quite a feat - never mind; that pun's even too bad for me to use).

Exit PowerBook.

I've done everything except take it apart case and all (which I would have done if the TSA hadn't taken my repair kit - the sixth time it went through security). I'll be getting a torx tonight and doing just that. If cleaning under the trackpad doesn't work (I've already cleaned what very little wine got into the guts), I'll be computerless while I'm here, and nearly so in Dallas since all the other systems are so old.

So, anyone want to contribute to the "give Jeff a replacement computer so he doesn't have to go back to his real-world hobbies" fund?

Posted by Jeff at 09:24 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 18, 2004

Major Offensive in Pakistan

That title is actually a little misleading. On the Pakistani side of the border, Pakistani forces are undertaking a major offensive against terrorists and their protectors in the tribal areas along the Pak/Afghan border. On the Afghan side, the US forces have stepped up their optempo, and are conducting a major operation called Mountain Storm. So in reality, there is a major offensive in the Eastern region of Pashtunistan.

Frankly, I'm impressed with the Pakistani operation. They are doing some major things right.

Many Al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas in Waziristan are fleeing their village hideouts and heading up into the mountains along the Afghan border, according to tribal sources in the area.
[snip]
Officials here say the fighters are being squeezed by the government's recent crackdown in the tribal region. Pakistan has deployed 12,000 military and paramilitary soldiers, and demanded help from tribal leaders, to round up Al Qaeda and Taliban elements.
[snip]
Tribal sources estimate that around 600 Al Qaeda guerrillas - mostly Arabs, Chechens, and Uzbeks - remain in and around South Waziristan. While not all of these wanted militants have left the villages, tribal sources believe that many have converged in the forest-covered, snow-swept mountain regions of Shikai, Bush, and Khamran.

"Al Qaeda are now avoiding traveling in Land Cruisers because they think they will either be spotted by American satellite or killed by chasing Pakistani forces," says local tribesman Farid Khan. He says Al Qaeda fighters are paying local woodcutters and shepherds, who are "known as the best guides," $85 to $170 each for the trip into the mountains.


The fact that the terrorists and guerillas are fleeing up into the mountains is a pretty good indication that the Pakistanis are in the right area, and that the enemy is worried about the efficacy of the actions against them.

Ties are strong between the terrorists and locals:

"These poor people sympathized with them, and believe saving mujahideen from Americans is a service to Islam," says Mr. Khan.

Some of the foreign fighters are familiar to the local residents. The region was used as a "launching pad" into Afghanistan for thousands of anti-Soviet mujahideen, trained and funded by Pakistani and American intelligence agencies. After the Soviet defeat, many Islamic militants, particularly Uzbeks and Chechens, preferred to settle down in Pakistan's tribal belt.

"They look like Waziristanis now. They wear traditional dress, speak fluent Pashto, and follow our traditions," says tribesman Nasir Khan.

After the Sept. 11 attacks and the ouster of the Taliban by the US forces, the ideological bonding between locals and Al Qaeda fighters turned into a relationship.

"When Afghanistan was bombed, mujahideen of Al Qaeda married their daughters to the sons of tribesmen. Dozens of the weddings were arranged in emergency as Al Qaeda men were wary of their uncertain future," he says.


But the terrorists have good reason to be worried:
Pakistani authorities are trying to cut off Al Qaeda's local support and supply line by involving tribal elders.

Under pressure to deliver, tribal chiefs have formed a force of 600 armed tribesmen to catch militants and hand over the five most wanted local tribesmen, known as "Men of Al Qaeda."

The clans of the Zakikhel tribe, which formed the tribal posse, will be forced to pay a fine of $870 each day and face house demolitions if they fail to apprehend "foreign terrorists."

This penalty, which began Monday, will be in place for the next five days. As of Monday, the tribal force has caught no one; officials monitoring their performance say that if they fail, Pakistani forces will launch their own operation at "anytime."
[snip]
On Oct. 2, hundreds of Pakistani commandos and troops attacked a guerrilla hideout, killing eight Al Qaeda men and capturing 18. Pakistan identified two of the dead as Hasan Masoom, a top leader of a Muslim terrorist movement in China, and Egyptian-born Canadian national, Ahmed Said Khadr, a top Al Qaeda financier.

In January, authorities gave tribal elders a list of more than 100 wanted tribesmen. Around 60 of them were handed over, but the elders failed to surrender the most wanted men suspected of providing shelter to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

During a Feb. 24 raid in South Waziristan, Pakistani forces captured at least 20 people, including some foreign women, and recovered ammunition and passports of suspected Al Qaeda fighters.


This is a cruel thing to say, but history shows that if a civilian population is actively aiding an insurgent force, you have to give them the "us or them" choice. It's a risky choice, because, as Malik Behram Khan, "an enraged tribal elder," puts it: "If we support Al Qaeda then our houses are demolished and if we side with the government then we are killed by Al Qaeda and their men."

It is a mistake to treat civilians aiding insurgents as non-combatants. In actual fact such people are paramilitaries, even if all they're offering is an operational base, and camoflage, for the insurgents. The limit of this was reached in Viet Nam: this only works against populations actively aiding the insurgents; neutral or friendly populations are instead driven to support the insurgents if pressured in this way.

But it appears that the Pashtun population of the area is certainly working with the terrorists, to the point of intermarriage and active logistical support. So it would appear that the targetted population is well-chosen in this case.

This pressure deprives the enemy of hiding places and logistics, and active aid is turned into passive support. By putting the enemy forces on the run and operating out of improvised areas, the enemy has lost any ability to take the initiative. This kind of pressure demoralizes the fighters who aren't killed, and kept up long enough can kill, cause to give up the fight, or drive the enemy totally out of an area.

UPDATE: And obviously, if this bears out, and the Pakistanis take Zawahiri, that would be a really big victory for the good guys.

Posted by Jeff at 12:02 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 17, 2004

He's Reading my Mind

Brian Tiemann of Peeve Farm is apparently reading my mind. Here are his thoughts on the beginning of Europe's realization of what they face, and here are his thoughts on John Dvorak's PCMag piece on Microsoft's latest abomination.

Posted by Jeff at 11:35 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

The UN Should Take Over Iraq

The UN should take over Iraq, because clearly they would do a better job at keeping violence under control than the US does.

Posted by Jeff at 07:55 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Where is the Press on This?

I wrote recently about Iran and Syria potentially facing revolutions. Michael Totten talks about Iran today. Reading some of the Arab and Israeli papers, it appears that this is a big issue to them: Iran could very well fall into civil war - if it's not already gone past the point of mere civil disturbance. Where is the US press on this? Surely the internal turmoil in countries on the Iraqi border should be newsworthy? Or does it just not fit the template?

Posted by Jeff at 05:04 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 16, 2004

Sympathy with the Bedevilled

A few things should be very clear, and do not seem to be:

  • The vote in Spain, and the forthcoming Spanish (and now Honduran) troop withdrawals from Iraq, are a clear victory for the jihadis. It does not matter what factors influenced the Spanish electorate, or whether the Spaniards hunt down the people responsible for the Madrid attacks, or even whether the attackers turn out ultimately to be ETA, al Qaida, or some jihadist group: the terrorists killed, and Spain jumped radically towards appeasement. Correlation does not imply causality, but it sure suggests it. In the mind of the jihadis, this was a victory, and it will result in further and more horriffic attacks, in Europe in particular.
  • The Socialists could have redeemed themselves by saying that they still felt the Iraq war was wrong, and would not leave troops in place, but would take action by sending a somewhat larger force to, say, Afghanistan. They did not.
  • When I said, "We are all Spanish today," I did not mean (as Le Monde apparently did with their "We are all Americans now") that I want the Spaniards to be like us. I meant that I sympathised with the Spanish people. I still do. But now, I pity them as well, because they have shown fear in the face of terror, and that makes them a more attractive target for terror. They will pay the price for this; not I. And when they do, I will feel sorry for them, as I feel sorry for the victims of all such attacks.
  • In the end, it does not matter in a fundamental way if the Spanish, or the Hondurans, stand with us. It does not even matter in a fundamental way if the British stand with us. The United States stands against terrorism. We will continue to stand against terrorism, until terrorism is as dead as Naziism and Soviet Communism and the other failed ideologies of the past. We will stand with our friends; and if we have no friends, we will stand alone against the darkness. Melodramatic language, maybe, but something I believe in my core, and a belief that most Americans share. As the British stood against Napoleon and later Germany, we will stand for freedom and against tyranny until and unless we are destroyed.

Posted by Jeff at 09:04 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Interesting Conclusion

So a little less than 3/5 of Americans apparently believe that John Kerry will say anything to get elected, and 1/3 do not believe that. Yet 38% (low mark, assuming Nader in the race) would vote for him anyway. This indicates that, bare minimum, 5% of voters believe Kerry is probably lying, pandering or distorting, and would still like to see him be President. Wow.

Posted by Jeff at 05:32 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

It's Gonna Take a Miracle

Bill Whittle writes a new essay.
And then a miracle occurs, and people choose to face the harsh reality of the world with logic, reason and dispassionate observation rather than hiding in the warm, dark comfort of magical thinking.
And we face the future together.

Actually, I have been coming closer and closer to the belief that mankind falls apart unless we are in danger of dying on a fairly-constant basis. As long as we are protected (and I for one would like to stay that way) from the harsh reality, we can indulge in all kinds of comfortable fantasies, "cowards, bound up in ego, boxed in narcissism and wrapped in bitterness and failure."

Posted by Jeff at 05:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Are the Teachers Hippies?

I understand that hippies never liked squares.

UPDATE: GAH! I should just stop reading Joanne Jacobs' site. It makes me really annoyed at the stupidity of education bureaucrats.

Posted by Jeff at 04:50 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

What are You?

Apparently, John Kerry was asked a question of John Kerry at a PA campaign event:

A Republican business owner here in this November battleground state and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had the same questions Sunday for Senator John Kerry: Which foreign leaders told you they support your campaign, and when did you meet with them?

The questions, in a volatile exchange at a forum here and in an interview on Fox News Sunday, stemmed from a comment that Mr. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, made last Monday at a Florida fund-raiser. It was the second time in recent days that stray comments by Mr. Kerry diverted attention from his themes of creating jobs and providing health insurance.

"I just want an honest answer," Cedric Brown, 52, who owns a small sign company, told Mr. Kerry.

"Were they people like Blair or were they people like the president of North Korea?" he asked, referring to the British prime minister, Tony Blair. "Why not tell us who it was? Senator, you're making yourself sound like a liar."


Kerry's response was classic ad hominem: when confronted by a good question, he attacked the questioner's identity and motives:
As many in the crowd shouted at Mr. Brown to "shut up," Mr. Kerry, a veteran of both the Vietnam War and the protests against it, calmly promised to answer all queries, no matter the tone. Then he turned the tables.

"Are you a Democrat or a Republican — what are you?" he asked. "You answer the question."


Well, I would like an answer, too, Mr. Kerry. What am I? I am an American. What are you? You answer the question.
After Mr. Brown said he voted for Mr. Bush in 2000, Mr. Kerry added: "See? Democracy works both ways."

Yes, yes it does. Oh, well, I figured it was a long shot:
There are a couple of things that disqualify a candidate for my vote immediately. For example, being a pathological liar (think Clinton or Nixon) or too opportunistic a liar (think Johnson or Daschle). Kerry is likely not a pathological liar, but he seems an excessively opportunistic liar (well beyond the norm for a politician).

Kerry's first hurdle will be to convince me he's not an excessively opportunistic liar. To do so, he'll need some really good explanations for his past behavior - in particular, his part in VVAW & his recent wildly-veering positions on issues.

Posted by Jeff at 01:12 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

How Will They Know When They're Done?

Here's a horrid thought: how will those who would appease the jihadis know when they are done? After all, it's not like Munich: no one has come forward with a list of demands to be met. Al Qaida's statements have only been to the effect of "surrender or die" (and possibly both). So here is a question for the would-be appeasers: how do you know when you've met the demands?

If al Qaida attacks Europe again soon, was the appeasement ineffective or insufficient? If you give more, how much is enough? How frequently do you have to give? How big? If al Qaida waits for a while before attacking Europe again, did appeasement work in staving off the attacks, or draw more in hopes of further payoffs? How will anyone know?

If al Qaida does not put forward formal demands, then how do you know if you've met their demands? Is it only when you go to pay the jizya that you know you're done? And if you're not willing to be a slave, then when do you stop appeasing and defend yourself? And in the meantime, have you given away so much that your self-defense is not only more difficult, but actually impossible?

Posted by Jeff at 01:44 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Touchstone

Somewhere in Asia Minor, about the time that the Greeks were coming upon what would later be Athens, someone figured out that you could tell the purity of metal by rubbing it on a touchstone: each alloy would make a different mark. You could tell if your gold or silver were pure. Rub gold onto the touchstone and you get a yellow streak. Then you can take any other metal, and if you get that same yellow streak, you know it's pure gold. That's where money came from: standardized metal purities.

Similarly, if you want to know if a strategy is working, they key test is not the first strike, but the second. The first is a mark against which to measure. If the second strike achieves the same kind of result, you've got a winner.

In the Terror Wars, the bombing of the embassy in Lebanon was the touchstone's first mark against the US: we were hit and we left, without first destroying Hizbollah. We were hit again and again in similar ways - Mogadishu is actually not as good of an example, though we left, as the African embassy attacks, where we didn't leave, but also didn't react in any meaningful way.

With 9/11, the terrorists found that, in fact, their strategy was no longer working: the US suddenly cared about preventing this kind of attack, and wouldn't sit ineffectively by, somnolent under the knife. Bali showed that Australia was no easy victim, and it's arguable that the anti-terror measures PM Howard undertook in Indonesia and surrounding countries have been as problematic for the jihadis as the US/Pakistani operations in Pakistan, if not more so.

But the Madrid attacks had a different result: the Europeans, faced with a challenge on home soil (by Arabs who consider Spain also to be their literally God-given home soil), folded. The touchstone had a yellow streak. Now the question is: did the strategy work, or was that a fluke? If, say, Italy has an election, will they be hit? Will Spain be hit again? I think it's likely. (Apparently, so does Rev. Sensing.)

Because that's the real test: if a second attack will make Europe cave in the same way the first apparently is, al Qaida might have found gold.

Posted by Jeff at 12:35 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 15, 2004

This is What They Were Afraid Of

Over the weekend, to virtually no notice from the UN or the Western Press, both Syria and Iran have been embroiled in violent turmoil. (It should be noted that more people have been killed in Syria, apparently, than in the Madrid bombings.) When the Left in America and Europe, the UN and the Arab/Muslim governments of the Middle East talk about US actions endangering the "stability" of the Middle East, it is precisely this that they are worried about: that the Arabs and Muslims oppressed by their own governments will ask for the very Liberty we take for granted, at the expense of the tyrants.

Posted by Jeff at 11:40 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Victory and Defeat in the Terror Wars

The Terror Wars, in the sense of all of those wars connected to the attacks of September 11, which finally woke America to her danger, began in 1993, though the seeds were sown in 1979 (when the Iranian revolution replaced the Shah with a theocracy) and when the Saudi ruling family made a deal with the Wahhabi sect of Islam to spread radical Islamism world-wide, in exchange for legitimacy at home. But in 1993, the first attack on a Western power, aimed at the restoration of the Caliphate under the control of radical Islamists, was made at the World Trade Center.

The bomb planted in the basement of the WTC by Ramzi Youssef was intended to bring down the WTC, thus damaging the US economy and forcing our withdrawal from the Middle East. It failed in its primary goal, but succeeded in other ways. Most notably, it increased recruiting for al-Qaida, and gave serious "street cred" to Osama bin Laden. Because the US failed to respond, the jihadis could (and did) claim to have humbled the US, and shown her weakness, after the humiliation of the Iraq war in 1991. The Battle of Mogadishu, the "Black Hawk Down" incident, further showed the weakness of America, and their inability to sustain casualties among even their soldiers. Or so argued the jihadis.

Further attacks came: against the troops quartered at Khobar towers, against the embassies in Africa, against the USS Cole. In each case, the American response was to take it. If anything was even attempted to strike back at the jihadis, those attempts were feeble, distracted, and ultimately both meaningless and powerless. These were all, in short, very helpful for the jihadi recruiters: here we are, they would say, killing Americans/Christians/Jews - civilians and soldiers - and there is no response. Each of these attacks were clear victories of a sort for the jihadis, because while they did not produce the immediate effect of driving America from the Middle East (the first stated goal of al-Qaida, the second being to remove the insufficiently-Islamic governments of countries in the Middle East in favor of Taliban-like states), they did make it harder to obtain public support for actions in the Middle East. Even supporting sanctions against Iraq was a minority struggle before 9/11 (despite the cries for containment of Iraq after the war in Afghanistan, by the very same people who wanted to remove the sanctions before the war in Afghanistan).

In retrospect, 9/11 was a serious mistake for the jihadis: it awoke America at last to our danger, and brought down the full might of America directly on al-Qaida's head. The results have been stunning. By huge margins the public supported the destruction of al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and by large margins supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In these operations, the jihadis lost their most important base (Afghanistan) and one of their three most prolific state sponsors (Iraq; the others being Iran and Saudi Arabia). Moreover, the jihadi efforts in Pakistan were somewhat set back, although that is hardly a settled issue even now.

Bali, too, was a setback for the jihadis, despite the death toll. It made the Australians more, not less, determined to stick out the war against terrorists, and provided a concrete example that it wasn't just the US that was the target.

Madrid could have had the same effect as Bali, of strengthening the will of the Europeans to carry on in the face of this threat to Western civilization. Indeed, it could have been sufficient to bring even France more in line with the position of Bush, Blair, Aznar, Howard and others - of the war-not-crime Coalition, for lack of a better term.

But it does not appear that will be the case. With evidence pointing more and more clearly towards al-Qaida as the perpetrators of the Madrid bombings, Spanish voters changed their position and elected the Socialists, who apparently take the position of withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq unless the UN is in charge. In other words, the Spanish voters have (at least for the time being) moved the country's government from the war-not-crime position to the crime-not-war position.

Glenn Reynolds has two excellent summaries, here and here.

What concerns me the most about all of this, though, is not the change in Spain's position, but the message that change sends to the terrorists. Before the bombings, Aznar's PP was likely to win the elections by a 3-5 point margin. Instead, the Socialists won by a convincing margin. The only change in the interim was the bombings. Now, clearly the European (and American) Left is delighted: Spain is coming around to their way of thinking.

The message sent to the terrorists is this: if an American ally whose popular support of the alliance is held in place by narrow margins suffers a mass-casualty attack just before those elections, it is possible to change the outcome of that election in your favor, and cause the party most favorable to you to win the election. Certainly, the Left is ready to attribute any act of terrorism to the US, or the Jews, or Bush - anyone except the actual attackers.

It is unlikely that the jihadis planned a series of pre-election attacks (it's not just the US and Spain having critical elections this year), though it's clear that they did plan the Madrid attacks with the Spanish election in mind. But it would certainly be possible to organize such attacks in Europe, and with 8 months to go, we might see such an attack in America.

If it does come about, I hope we are strong enough not to decide to start feeding the crocodile.

UPDATE: See also Tacitus, with much more depth on why Spain was, is and will be a target regardless of what the Spanish government does.

UPDATE (3/15): Expat Yank's take is also interesting, pointing out the hypocrisy of Spanish socialists complaining for years about the Franco-British appeasement of the German and Italian fascists during the Spanish Civil War, then undertaking teh exact same kinds of actions with regards to the Islamists.

UPDATE (3/15): Jacob Levy's take is different. I personally don't think that changes of political parties to one's with policies different from the (pro-US position) current ruling party make this a defeat. I think that the problem of the change is that it wouldn't have happened, apparently, absent the attacks; and given a strategy that worked, al Qaida is likely to use it again - during elections or even major decision-making cycles.

Would it affect US decisions on whether to go to war with Iran if such a discussion resulted in several mass-casualty attacks in the US, and if so how? Moreover, would we be tempted to simply avoid making such decisions for fear of "provoking" (don't thing that won't be the word choice of the Left!) attacks?

Posted by Jeff at 12:21 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

March 14, 2004

Murder? Uh, No

Steph has a must read post on the case in Utah of the mother who refused a c-section (initially, but later had one) and lost a baby, and is now charged with murder. The handling of this case as a murder is more evidence that the State is becoming increasingly focused on telling us all how to live, and passing very sweeping laws to control our decisions - well, really, to take our decisions away from us. All to protect us, of course. Yes, that's it, to protect us.

Posted by Jeff at 11:35 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Connect the Dots

Read this, then read this.

Posted by Jeff at 12:43 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004

The Rot Within

The Internet as it now exists is dying. The rot isn't very visible yet, because it is at the very heart of what makes the Internet function: the TCP/IP protocols underlying the whole network and the consolidation of backbone providers. Some of the symptoms are the rapidly-shrinking pool of available addresses, combined with slow adoption of IPv6 (which would expand the address pool dramatically); the prevalence of spam in virtually every medium; inability to easily find the resources you want the first time you need them; lawsuits over ownership of domain names; denial of service attacks and other types of remote hacking; and occasional outages across a large span of the network.

TCP/IP was designed for survivability. If a network node went down, the damage would be detected and routed around. In other words, the Internet as originally conceived was designed to survive a nuclear attack gracefully. Today, it cannot survive a backhoe accident gracefully.

The Internet works by INTERconnecting individual NETworks. Thus, my network at my house talks to Verizon's network via a permanent connection. I don't have any backup. If that connection (my DSL line) fails, I'm limited to my local network until the connection is restored. This is a risk I accept because the financial cost of redundant connections is higher than their worth to me. For a business, though, being disconnected is simply unacceptable; they connect at multiple points to multiple backbone providers (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, etc), sometimes through geographically distinct locations (IBM, for example, connects in many many cities to many many different providers). If one of their connections fails, the other takes all of the traffic and routes it accordingly...theoretically.

In practice, this only works a little for most companies, for two reasons. First, most companies have consolidated their network connections down to a bare minimum. They have done this for cost, yes, but mostly they have done so because the more connections you have, the more difficult it is to seal off your network. Originally, all networks would route any traffic through them. But as attacks became more prevalent, and as free riders used up bandwidth they weren't paying for, companies increasingly sealed off their networks so that only their own traffic would go in and out. The connection points had to be protected, and monitored, and that was difficult if you had too many connection points. And, too, there was the problem of other companies also sealing off their networks, so you had to connect only to backbone providers or to intermediaries who specialize in connecting networks (ISPs).

The net effect of this was to make the backbone providers much more important, because there was no longer a web of interconnections between companies or organizations that were geographically near each other, or had shared business between them. (These days, it is not unusual for different units of the same company have no interconnection except through the backbone providers.) But the backbone providers have powerful incentives to consolidate. They have to share several locations to all come together and talk, in order to work (Google on MAE-East and MAE-West some time). This means that those interconnection points for backbone providers have a lot of high-capacity lines running in to them. And because the number of lines is finite, and the demand is large, most of those lines are in some way shared between different providers for some or all of their distance. As a result, it is very possible for a backhoe within a few hundred miles of one of these major interconnects to take down large parts of the network.

This problem cannot be fixed unless you fix the underlying issues with TCP/IP. TCP/IP was not designed with security or predictability in mind: all the packets are unencrypted; you don't know much about the packet other than it is coming from an adjacent node to which you are connected, and where it is going (the router then compares the destination with its table of where to send things, and sends the packet down the appropriate line); and it's not predictable - delivery of packets you send cannot be guaranteed.

There are ways to fix this, which would guarantee that you could establish dependable connections, still capable of routing around damage, where you know where the traffic is coming from in an unspoofable way. The only problem is that you have to replace all of the equipment on which the Internet runs (down to the the network cards in your home computer, potentially), and rewrite all or parts of the various applications and operating systems which understand the current ISO network model and the TCP/IP protocols.

I'm going off into gobbledygook land for a minute here, so if you're not a computer person, feel free to either Google the terms I've emphasized, or skip the next couple of paragraphs.

Here are some existing parts that could be brought together to make this work: the address scheme could be provided by OIDs. If every network device had an inalterable OID, and every user also had non-repudiatable (learn about PKI) identity, and every packet had the entire chain of OIDs from initiation to where the packet currently sits contained in it with the appropriate cryptographic signatures to allow the detection of forgery, any virus initiators or crackers could be tracked down and could not reasonably deny their culpability.

Ah, but what about routing these addresses, since OIDs are not tied to physical organizations? Well, neither are IP addresses. IP addresses are issued byIANA to one of APNIC, ARIN, LACTIC or RIPE, which then issue them further down. For example, my home network IP comes from IANA to ARIN to Verizon to me. Each issuer keeps track of those blocks that have been issued, and of how they route. IANA has an OID, and it could establish a branch for addresses (if it hasn't already) and thus the routing continuity is available.

How would you find a name under this scheme? DNS would need huge modifications. But it could be done using LDAP servers, with a modified DNS front ending them, using a cascading system of references not unlike what DNS does. This also would provide other benefits, like being able to instantly tie an address (not just for an end point, but for any device you talk to) to its owner. This has a further advantage, because you can tie down more than just addresses to names. You can also tie names to services and names to people, so that you could (for example) say something like, "send this email to Jeff Medcalf from the DFW area, wherever he is now" and the network could do it transparently. Or you could say something like "tell me where the nearest grocery store is", and if the grocery store registered its physical address and you registered your current location, the network could tell you.

OK, so at this point, you have a way of verifying where something came from when it hits your network, but the traffic is still going in the clear, so passwords and credit card numbers are still vulnerable unless you are using SSH or SSL or something similar. Well, heck, as long as we're replacing all of the underlying infrastructure, let's say than any two nodes can be configured to talk IPSec (or, more correctly, an appropriate analog). That is, all nodes will encrypt the traffic so that it can only be decrypted by the node it's sent to. Remember how I said above "every packet had the entire chain of OIDs from initiation to where the packet currently sits contained in it with the appropriate cryptographic signatures to allow the detection of forgery"? Well, it so happens that capability is tied up with the capability to encrypt traffic from node to node.

Now that you know where something is coming from, and can guarantee that it can't be forged without detection, you can establish webs of trust. For example, you could trust those networks you connect to to send you traffic, and also trust any traffic they pass on from outside. A company would want to cut off the web of trust at anonymizers (which would allow you to hide your ultimate identity even in this scheme), and everyone would cut off their web of trust at domains hosting spammers or virus writers.

With this security problem solved, you can now turn to traffic problems that prevent adjacent networks from connecting. Why would someone pay for the bandwidth they need, when they can connect to their neighbor's higher-bandwidth system cheaper and leech off of them? Well, as long as we're redesigning the core protocols, why not include traffic shaping as a core feature? If you know where packets are coming from, and you have a registry (remember the LDAP servers above?) tracking all of the networks you are connecting to, it would be pretty easy for routers to centrally update how much traffic is coming from where. You could then sign enforcable agreements with your neighboring network as to how much traffic each of you will allow to be routed through your network. At that point you've reestablished the ability to mesh networks and have thus addressed the fundamental routing weakness by deemphasizing the backbone providers.

One last thing, since we're redesigning the core protocol. There should be two connection types that you can request: shared or dedicated. A shared connection would be similar to IP now - it just routes each packet individually. But a dedicated connection would attempt to establish a persistent channel to the end point. If each device along the way was configured to allow this, and if you were in the web of trust of each of these devices, you could maintain a persistent connection that could guarantee deliverability (and even to some extent predicability of time of delivery) at the cost of overall network efficiency.

OK, so with a lot of fleshing out, this kind of scheme would allow you to solve the underlying weaknesses of the network. As a nice side effect, a lot of the services currently built on top of the network would become unnecessary, or would become easier. The only problem, as I said, is that you'd have to replace the Internet and all that runs on it. It turns out that DARPA is considering just that. (Link via SlashDot)

Posted by Jeff at 09:28 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

March 12, 2004

Meaningless Political Statement

Ravenwood is annoyed by the recent Senate maneuver to force tax cuts (including making temporary cuts permanent) to require a 60 vote supermajority to pass. I was too, for about 30 seconds, but then I realized...

This is a meaningless political statement. In addition to being very likely to be removed by the House in conference, it already takes 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate. With the soft filibuster rule, where the Senator doesn't actually have to maintain the floor (just to announce his intent to filibuster), cloture comes into effect. Cloture (stopping discussion preparatory to voting) requires 60 votes.

So I am still annoyed, but my annoyance is of a different kind: what kind of political statement are the Republicans attempting to make? The Democrats are likely hoping to embarass the President. Are the Republicans? If so, I'm OK with that; I don't hold Party discipline to be somehow sacrosanct.

If, on the other hand, the message is that tax cuts are a bad idea, then these Senators have gotten it completely backwards, and need to be removed from office by the voters (along with, frankly, many of the Democrats). Rebalancing the budget by raising taxes is a drag on the economy, and could cause a double-dip recession (though at this point it's more likely that it would just slow the ongoing recovery). However, rebalancing the budget by killing off expensive, wasteful, or duplicative programs instead would have a salutory effect on the economy and (inherently) on personal liberty. (If you need an explanation of why that is, look here.)

Posted by Jeff at 05:04 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 11, 2004

Spain

It's odd. The other day, I was thinking, while riding Chicago's elevated train, how easy it would be for terrorists to simply walk on board a dozen cars, wearing the kind of suicide vests used by Palestinian terrorists in bus attacks, and kill hundreds. Today it happened (with backpacks left on the trains), in Spain.

We are all Spanish today.

Spanish Flag - click to start anthem

Posted by Jeff at 06:28 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 10, 2004

Then She Told me a Story, About Free Milk and a Cow

It is only relatively recently that love became (at least in Enlightenment-influenced societies) a primary motivation for marriage. (Let me be clear: in societies not based on Enlightment values, love has not become a primary motivation for marriage.) That doesn't invalidate love as a motive for marriage, but it does bring into question why marriage would exist otherwise.

The answer is actually pretty straightforward: marriage provides concrete benefits to both partners, and concrete evolutionary benefits.

The concrete benefits to the husband are that he has an object for his natural protective and provider traits (and thus is made happy, and proud, by having someone to protect and provide for and by protecting and providing for them) and a better chance of having sex (especially past the prime of life). The concrete benefits to the wife mirror those of the husband: she has someone to protect and provide for her - particularly when she is incapacitated by childbirth and early childcare - and also has a better chance of having sex (especially past the prime of life). Both spouses also benefit from companionship, a pretty universal human need, and other psychological benefits (married people are still, apparently, happier in general than non-married people).

The evolutionary benefits of marriage are that children are more likely to survive for two reasons: the children are provided for and protected, and families are a great mechanism for accumulating wealth (which has a positive impact on survival to adulthood and on ability to find a good spouse in adulthood).

Over the long-term, the evolutionary benefits are such that people likely to choose marriage (barring societal conditioning against doing so) are more likely to increase their share of the gene pool than people unlikely to choose marriage.

What is happening now, though, is a societal suppression of many of the reasons for marriage (and not just in Scandinavia). The prevalence of easy divorces, and the availability of abortion, have both significantly weakened marriage as a societal institution, and it is likely that socially redefining marriage to include homosexual couples, groups and whomever else can make an equal-rights case for "the right to be married" is going to weaken the institution further.

It should be noted here that I believe that civil divorce should be more difficult, but certainly not impossible, that abortion should be available on demand to adults whose foetus is not yet at the 50% viability point, and that (from a civil, not religious, standpoint) any group of two or more consenting adults should be able to form a contractual relationship equivalent to marriage (including the protections against testimony against a spouse, which will need to be evaluated in depth for reasons I hope are obvious).

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Anyway, the point is that the institution of marriage as it's known in our culture today is weakening further, and is likely to undergo another major change.

You heard me, another major change. In this country, only something like 100 years ago, nuclear families were rare, and were the result of unusual forces. Typically, they were the result of epidemics wiping out the extended family, in-migration from other countries where only the nuclear family came, or colonization of the frontier. The usual model was the extended family, with elders mostly caring for and educating the children; the adult males providing for the elders, women and children; and the adult women bearing and nursing children. The dissolution of the extended family had far-reaching effects (consider: the need for public education, the emergence of nursing homes, the need for women to be able to vote and work - and these are just the edge of the issue), and these effects are only now stabilizing.

But now, the nuclear family looks as if it will dissolve as the norm (there are still extended families in the US, but they're very rare). The interesting question to me is not how to prevent this, but what will replace nuclear families.

I doubt there's much to really argue about in the foregoing, but now I'm going to hop off into speculation, so get ready to be annoyed, offended, intrigued or bored (your choice).


Human social institutions exist for one reason only, and at the behest of one group only. They exist to for women to obtain protection and provision for themselves and their children when they and their children are incapable of living without help.

The fundamental, overriding imperative of women is successfully to raise children to adulthood, who themselves then have children. (The evolutionary success of any individual is measured by the number of grandchildren, because that accounts for how many of the individual's children survived to adulthood, and passed on the individual's genes to another generation.) In order for women successfully to raise children, given that they will be incapacitated for large parts of their productive adult life, women require social institutions to make that possible, and desire social institutions that make it easier.

The social rules that grow up around relationships (from tribal hunter/gatherer cultures where all adult males were responsible for supporting all of the tribe's women and children, to early agricultural settlements where monogamous attachment in pairs first became prominent, to extended families of various kinds, to the nuclear family) were always based on providing women with care during their periods of pregnancy and nursing, and providing women and children with protection and sustenance always.

While such social rules benefit women directly, men also obtain benefits. In addition to social approval, men get to indulge their desire to protect and provide. But, more importantly to most men (at least when they're young enough to be in prime breeding age), women have the power of withholding sexual favors. Chastity before marriage as a social rule, for example, was enforced by the denial of women to provide sex before marriage, not by the rules of the Church. (For very good practical reasons, too; go read Les Miserables to see what women with a child could face in the absence of a man to care for them.) Given that there is a limited number of attractive young women willing to have sex with any given man without asking for a commitment in return, men have a pretty strong incentive to live within the social structures that women build up to protect themselves and their children.

I do believe that it's at least somewhat likely that the combination of birth control, ready divorce, and the societal redefinition of marriage might well make nuclear families as rare in 100 years as the extended family is today. But absent horribly repressive measures (such as the most extreme Islamic creeds impose on women), some new institution will arise to take over the functions of the family, protecting women and children and increasing wealth. What this institution will be is anyone's guess (science fiction has provided us with almost as many ideas as has a careful study of history), but I can almost guarantee that the primary shapers of the replacement to marriage will be young, heterosexual women.

Posted by Jeff at 10:04 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Bad Ideas or Bad People

Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi on Babylon 5), hosting a radio talk show on KLIF, just said "Republicans think Democrats have bad ideas. Democrats think Republicans are bad people." That sounds about right to me.

Posted by Jeff at 09:09 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Top Ten Things Comment Spammers Should Know

10.I loathe comment spam.
9.Everyone that I know loathes comment spam.
8.No one comes here to find out about penis enlargement techniques/products
7.or how to get Viagra without the embarassment of admitting that you need it (or the inconvenience of getting a prescription)
6.or any other legal drug, even if it's really cheap because it's imported, or stolen, or a sugar pill made to look like a legal drug
5.(or, for that matter, any illegal drug).
4Or even porn, though I'll probably start getting hits from all kinds of strange searches after posting this list.
3.Comment spam is rude. It takes up room on my server, time for me to delete (or my readers to scan past it if I don't delete it fast enough), and causes the pool of IP addresses that can post to the blog to shrink, because I ban IPs used for spamming. You don't have a property right to my blog, so at best you're scrawling digital graffiti.
2.I'm not a prude; I don't care what the spam is about. I just don't like spam.
1.I delete comment spam within a very short number of hours (as soon as I see it) and ban the address it came from, so it's not like it's even effective.
Posted by Jeff at 06:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

March 09, 2004

Here Endeth the Lesson

Andrew Olmstead offers a concise explanation of why government-mandated costs to businesses reduce employement.

He doesn't go far enough.

Consider the following additional factors:

  • Government regulation costs money. Construction businesses have major outlays on environmental impact statements, for example; but there are many other examples. Perhaps the biggest cost regulation incurs is the cost of having lawyers dedicated to discovering what regulations the company is required to comply with, and what regulations do not apply. With new regulations published daily, this can be a fairly time-consuming (and thus costly - lawyers aren't cheap) process.
  • The tax code costs money for compliance. If you think doing your 1040A is complex, try doing a corporate tax return. With the new auditing rules in the wake of Enron, WorldCom, et al, it is now imperative that company officers understand the books in some detail, even if they are not involved with the financial affairs of the company in the normal course of business. Otherwise, they risk damaging lawsuits. And corporate officers' time is not cheap. In fact, it's more expensive than lawyers' time.

I could go on, but it would get boring and technical pretty quickly. Suffice it to say that any cost placed on a business by the government can have one of only three effects: it can increase costs to consumers, reduce employment, or reduce profits.

Of course, the hope of most people who advocate government regulation and government-mandated costs is that profits will be reduced instead of the other possible effects. But this is naοve. If a company's profit margins are larger than a certain amount (about 5% for most settled industries, and about 15% for most insurgent industries), competitors will come in at a lower profit margin, and thus a lower price, and steal the market. If a company's profit margins are sustainable, a lower profit margin must be raised. Otherwise, the company is in serious danger of going out of business in the trough of the normal business cycle, or in the event of any of a number of catastrophes. Or, alternately, the company will be able to sustain a cash position that would protect it from the downtrends of the economy, but be unable to attract investment and thus unable to grow.

Each of these cases leads back to one inevitable conclusion: profits cannot be reduced below a certain level over the long-term, and thus increased government costs can only decrease employment or increase costs to consumers.

Further, in this globalized age, government costs can only marginally increase costs to consumers (in most industries). If costs rise, then imports from countries with less regulation or cheaper working costs become more enticing to consumers, and drive out domestic competition. "Drive out domestic competition" means, in the bluntest terms, that companies will either move operations overseas or go out of business.

In other words, in the current world economy, government-mandated costs - direct or indirect - must reduce employment.

Here endeth the lesson.

Posted by Jeff at 11:40 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Please Help Support the War Wounded

Ryan at Tasty Manatees has some excellent suggestions for supporting America's war casualties. I cannot urge you enough to read Ryan's post, and take action on it.

Posted by Jeff at 11:05 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Do What Ernie Says

Peter David sees hidden motives in Sesame Street's Ernie.

So Caroline is watching "Play With Me Sesame" at 8 AM on Noggin as she usually does. And it starts off with the following: Ernie looking into camera and saying, "We're going to go swimming today...but you're not going to need a bathing suit!"

Which made me go, "Hmmmm. Ernie's into child porn."

And then Ernie said, "In fact, you're not even going to need water!"

Which made me go, "Hmmmm. Ernie's into heavy drug use."

At which point he said, "All you have to do is what Ernie says!"

Which made me go, "Hmmmm. Ernie's a control freak."

And then I had a mental picture of toddlers trudging forward, glassy-eyed, arms oustretched, intoning, "We must do what Ernie says..."

Posted by Jeff at 10:23 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Bad Timing and Budgets

Phil Carter points to a Washington Post story on some in Congress moving to cut defense expenditures. It's pretty bad timing, one might say, to cut defense expenditures during a war. Whether or not the priorities within the Defense Department are right is another thing, but I cannot see a justification for shrinking the Pentagon budget when we're at war and overcommitted as it is. Worse, though, is the lack of any reference to put the numbers in perspective. Here are the numbers, from the FY2005 budget summary, against a GDP of $12402 billon:

CategoryRaw Amount (Billions)% of Budget% of GDP
Defense Spending42917.9%3.46%
Non-Defense Discretionary Spending48520.2%3.91%
Social Security51021.3%4.11%
Medicare/Medicaid47819.9%3.85%
Other Non-Discretionary Spending32013.3%2.58%

In other words, the total Federal drain on the economy is a little under 19.4%. Of that, both Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid consume larger parts of the budget than defense spending. In fact, between them, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security consume about 8% of the entire economy, twice as much as defense...in wartime...before the Social Security crisis comes about and before last year's ill-advised prescription drug benefit hits Medicaid with full force.

So what the Post is trying to do is misdirection: focusing negative attention on programs that Post's editors disfavor, while ignoring the much larger expenditures for programs the Post's editors favor. But it's deja moo (I've seen this bull before), because this is the exact same kind of argument made in the past to justify cutting defense to the bone, and consequences to the nation be damned.

Well, during the Cold War that was ill-considered, but during time of war it's execrable. (I'm sure the Post's editors can look the word up, if it loses them.)

Posted by Jeff at 10:19 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Preemptive Weariness

Kevin Drum has a post that most anybody of any political stripe could agree with. In an unbiased way, he lists the various attacks and counterattacks already going on in the presidential election, and concludes with:

I'm sure I've missed some stuff, but I'm tired. And this was only the first week.

Eight more months to go.


Yep. Eight more months to go.

Posted by Jeff at 05:55 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 08, 2004

The Iraqi Constitution

The CPA has published an English translation of the interim Iraqi Constitution. I've been reading it, and there's a lot to like.

Article 4 is particularly encouraging, as it sets out the nature of the future Iraq government in such a way as to provide a stable representative form. In addition, there is an explicit rejection (found sprinkled in different forms throughout the document) of various ways of dividing the Iraqis in nationalist of fundamentalist ways.

The system of government in Iraq shall be republican, federal, democratic, and pluralistic, and powers shall be shared between the federal government and the regional governments, governorates [sic], municipalities, and local administrations. The federal system shall be based upon geographic and historical realities and the separation of powers, and not upon origin, race, ethnicity, nationality, or confession.

The federal nature is spelled out clearly later (Chapter 8). The key summary is this: "The design of the federal system in Iraq shall be established in such a way as to prevent the concentration of power in the federal government that allowed the continuation of decades of tyranny and oppression under the previous regime. This system shall encourage the exercise of local authority by local officials in every region and governorate, thereby creating a united Iraq in which every citizen actively participates in governmental affairs, secure in his rights and free of domination."

Article 7, paragraph A is interesting, too. It is an attempt to acknowledge Islam's importance in Iraq without enslaving the government to the religious decrees of clerics. Note that the "principles of democracy" and "the rights cited in Chapter Two" (more on which later) are given equal weight with the tenets of Islam, such that Shari'a could not be imposed under this document. Also, note that the phrase is "the universally agreed tenets of Islam", which further lessens the chances of a fundamentalist takeover of the lawmaking mechanism.

Islam is the official religion of the State and is to be considered a source of legislation. No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the rights cited in Chapter Two of this Law may be enacted during the transitional period. This Law respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice.

Article 7, Paragraph B is a little confusing to me: "Iraq is a country of many nationalities, and the Arab people in Iraq are an inseparable part of the Arab nation." I don't understand the subtleties of Arabic, and I suspect that there is something implied in this paragraph that I need to understand. Help from an Arabic speaker would be appreciated.

Article 12 lays down the fundamental rule of law, and equality before the law:

All Iraqis are equal in their rights without regard to gender, sect, opinion, belief, nationality, religion, or origin, and they are equal before the law. Discrimination against an Iraqi citizen on the basis of his gender, nationality, religion, or origin is prohibited. Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of his person. No one may be deprived of his life or liberty, except in accordance with legal procedures. All are equal before the courts.

This provision is, as far as I know, unique in the Arab world. And it's a good and necessary provision for individual freedom to be possible.

Article 13 prevents the government from suppressing criticism of itself, as well as providing for a number of basic rights. It should be noted though that these are positive rights, granted by the Iraqi Constitution, not negative statements preventing the government from abrogating rights. There is actually a mix of positive and negative language in the Constitution as it is written.

(A) Public and private freedoms shall be protected.

(B) The right of free expression shall be protected.

(C) The right of free peaceable assembly and the right to join associations freely, as well as the right to form and join unions and political parties freely, in accordance with the law, shall be guaranteed.

(D) Each Iraqi has the right of free movement in all parts of Iraq and the right to travel abroad and return freely.

(E) Each Iraqi has the right to demonstrate and strike peaceably in accordance with the law.

(F) Each Iraqi has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice. Coercion in such matters shall be prohibited.

(G) Slavery, the slave trade, forced labor, and involuntary servitude with or without pay, shall be forbidden.

(H) Each Iraqi has the right to privacy.

Article 14 could be troubling to Iraq over the long term. What this article essentially does is to create a civil right to be nannied by the government. Should Iraq become quite prosperous, and birth rates decline as a result, and should this provision be carried forward into the permanent Constitution, then Iraq could face a situation where (notwithstanding the "within the limits of their resources" clause) a constitutional crisis would arise from this language clashing with material reality.

The individual has the right to security, education, health care, and social security. The Iraqi State and its governmental units, including the federal government, the regions, governorates, municipalities, and local administrations, within the limits of their resources and with due regard to other vital needs, shall strive to provide prosperity and employment opportunities to the people.

The really cool thing about this is that I'm looking at the Constitution for an Arab government quibbling about how a particular clause might effect the finances of the government in 50 years, rather than noting the total absence of rights - that is encouraging.

Article 15 concerns the application of the rule of law, and in particular limits government powers to arbitrarily punish people. What's most interesting to me, though, after the broad outline is suitably drawn, is that the rights being granted arise from private property rights, which are the fundamental rights which must exist for prosperity to take hold. And since prosperity almost always leads fairly directly to political freedom, property rights are the foundation of a free society. Here is paragraph (B):

Police, investigators, or other governmental authorities may not violate the sanctity of private residences, whether these authorities belong to the federal or regional governments, governorates, municipalities, or local administrations, unless a judge or investigating magistrate has issued a search warrant in accordance with applicable law on the basis of information provided by a sworn individual who knew that bearing false witness would render him liable to punishment. Extreme exigent circumstances, as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, may justify a warrantless search, but such exigencies shall be narrowly construed. In the event that a warrantless search is carried out in the absence of an extreme exigent circumstance, the evidence so seized, and any other evidence found derivatively from such search, shall be inadmissible in connection with a criminal charge, unless the court determines that the person who carried out the warrantless search believed reasonably and in good faith that the search was in accordance with the law.

Article 16 makes this more explicit. While I'm not a fan of eminent domain in the first place, the property protection provided here is superior to that in most of the world, and effectively equivalent to the property rights guarantees in the US.

(A) Public property is sacrosanct, and its protection is the duty of every citizen.

(B) The right to private property shall be protected, and no one may be prevented from disposing of his property except within the limits of law. No one shall be deprived of his property except by eminent domain, in circumstances and in the manner set forth in law, and on condition that he is paid just and timely compensation.

(C) Each Iraqi citizen shall have the full and unfettered right to own real property in all parts of Iraq without restriction.

The most troubling part of the Constitution, with the possible exception of the Article 7, Paragraph B language, is contained in Article 17.

It shall not be permitted to possess, bear, buy, or sell arms except on licensure issued in accordance with the law.

Effectively, the Iraqi government has the power to disarm the Iraqi citizens, and thus to prevent the last refuge of freedom: defense of the self against the depredations of government agents. This is far more problematic in places where government agents have recently been predatory than in settled nations where the rule of law is well established, and Iraq is certainly more in the former than the latter category. Hopefully, this language will not be in the permanent Constitution

Article 22 is excellent, because it gives individuals and groups the ability to directly sue government officials who violate their rights, and be compensated personally by that government official if he was not acting in good faith.

If, in the course of his work, an official of any government office, whether in the federal government, the regional governments, the governorate and municipal administrations, or the local administrations, deprives an individual or a group of the rights guaranteed by this Law or any other Iraqi laws in force, this individual or group shall have the right to maintain a cause of action against that employee to seek compensation for the damages caused by such deprivation, to vindicate his rights, and to seek any other legal measure. If the court decides that the official had acted with a sufficient degree of good faith and in the belief that his actions were consistent with the law, then he is not required to pay compensation.

The rest of the document is concerned with the structure of government, and limitations on the powers of government:

The armed forces are placed under civilian control, and serving members of the armed forces or Defense Ministry are prohibited from running for office.
The government maintains a monopoly on organized armed forces. (I suspect that this effectively outlaws militias, which is likely not a good thing, particularly in combination with the aforementioned ability of the government to control gun ownership.)

Government officers, legislators and jurists cannot simultaneously hold multiple offices.

The National Assembly (legislature) is given oversight of the executive. These powers are well-defined: "The oversight function performed by the National Assembly and its committees shall include the right of interpellation of executive officials, including members of the Presidency Council, the Council of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and any less senior official of the executive authority. This shall encompass the right to investigate, request information, and issue subpoenas for persons to appear before them."

Laws must be gazetted before taking effect.

"The National Assembly shall be elected in accordance with an electoral law and a political parties law. The electoral law shall aim to achieve the goal of having women constitute no less than one-quarter of the members of the National Assembly and of having fair representation for all communities in Iraq, including the Turcomans, ChaldoAssyrians, and others."

De-Ba'athification is constitutionally required. Former members of the Ba'ath at any but a quite junior level may not serve in the new government, and even junior Ba'ath members would have to disavow in writing any loyalty to the Ba'ath party. Members of the security services ("the former agencies of repression") are barred no matter what their duties or Ba'ath party level were.

Provisions exist to ensure that members of the Assembly will have foreknowledge of a bill (multiple readings, time requirements between introduction and voting, etc).

"The Iraqi Armed Forces may not be dispatched outside Iraq even for the purpose of defending against foreign aggression except with the approval of the National Assembly and upon the request of the Presidency Council."

The executive authority is divided among three persons/bodies: a Presidency Council, a Council of Ministers and a Prime Minister.

The Presidency Council is a three-member body, chosen by the National Assembly, which wields the authority of the State by unanimous agreement. Aside from the ceremonial purposes of the State, the Presidency Council can veto legislation, appoint the Prime Minister and ministers of the Council of Ministers (all subject to ratification by the National Assembly), and appoint the members of the Federal Supreme Court. Note that the Council is chosen by the Assembly, but is not subject to exercising its power only while retaining the confidence of the Assembly (as is common with parliamentary systems). The Assembly can remove the members of the Presidency Council, but to do so requires a supermajority. The Council can effectively derail treaties, but cannot ratify them (that power falls to the Assembly).

The Prime Minister is the head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces for operational purposes (with the ceremonial duties being undertaken by the Presidency Council). Unlike the Presidency Council, the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers serve at the pleasure of the Assembly (and for that matter at the pleasure of the Presidency Council - it will be easy to get rid of an underperforming minister).

The Council of Ministers has the power to appoint general officers in the armed forces and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Service, subject to agreement by the Assembly. The ministers, in addition to heading up the various departments their portfolios empower them to lead, also have the power to nominate ambassadors (subject to the approval of the Presidency Council).

The judiciary is independent: "The judiciary is independent, and it shall in no way be administered by the executive authority, including the Ministry of Justice. The judiciary shall enjoy exclusive competence to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused pursuant to law, without interference from the legislative or executive authorities."

The powers and jurisdiction of the Federal Supreme Court are similar to those in practice held by the US Supreme Court (such as the ability to nullify law), except that they are here made explicit. Unlike the SCOTUS, the Federal Supreme Court has the power to enforce its decisions without recourse to lower courts or executive authorities.

A "Higher Judicial Council", consisting of several important judges, supervises the court system, and nominates members to the bench (three per vacancy). The Presidential Council appoints from those nominated, or rejects the slate entirely, in which case the Higher Judicial Council has to submit a new slate.

Local and regional court decisions are only subject to federal review on the grounds of violating federal law or the Constitution.

The Special Tribunal (to examine war crimes by the Hussein regime) is confirmed as-is, as are certain other commissions erected to do one-time jobs (like de-Ba'athification).

Chapter 8 lays out the federal nature of Iraq, starting with this key summary:

The design of the federal system in Iraq shall be established in such a way as to prevent the concentration of power in the federal government that allowed the continuation of decades of tyranny and oppression under the previous regime. This system shall encourage the exercise of local authority by local officials in every region and governorate, thereby creating a united Iraq in which every citizen actively participates in governmental affairs, secure in his rights and free of domination.

Minority rights are protected. The Kurdish government in place in the North is codified into the lawful regional government of the six governorates currently under Kurdish control. "No member of any regional government, governor, or member of any governorate, municipal, or local council may be dismissed by the federal government or any official thereof, except upon conviction of a crime by a court of competent jurisdiction as provided by law. No regional government may dismiss a Governor or member or members of any governorate, municipal, or local council. No Governor or member of any Governorate, municipal, or local council shall be subject to the control of the federal government except to the extent that the matter relates to the competences set forth in Article 25 [exclusive competencies of the federal government] and 43(D) [establishment of regional courts], above."

A base level of regional and governorate funding comes from the national government, and the regions and governorates can increase their funding by levying local taxes.

Except for the exclusive competencies of the federal government (which are fairly limited), power is devolved to the regions and locales. The powers reserved to the federal government are, basically, foreign and trade policy; national security; fiscal policy, including chartering a commercial bank and regulating commerce across internal political boundaries; regulating weights and measures; regulating wages (I assume they intend a minimum wage, rather than the setting of all wages, given the other provisions of the document); managing the natural resources; regulating citizenship, immigration and asylum, and regulating telecommunications policy. All in all, these are fairly limited powers, and everything else is left up to subordinate jurisdictions.

Procedures are put in place for redressing serious problems caused by the Hussein regime.

Provisions are made for the drafting of a permanent Constitution.

Taken together, this is a fine document. There are some places where long-term worries would exist, but this is not intended to be a long-term Constitution. Let's put it this way, I could live under this Constitution, with the sole exception of the granting of powers to the Federal government to regulate gun ownership.

UPDATE (3/10): Steven Den Beste analyzes Iraq's Constitution, with a strong focus on the executive branch, and some emergent properties of the Iraqi Constitution.

Posted by Jeff at 04:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Crisis; What Crisis?

I have been thinking lately about the various crises brewing in the world, and figured I'd list them so I could get a better handle on what is happening. So here is a list of crises I see in progress or impending, ranked by a combination of the risk level and time frame and current commitment of the US:

CrisisSeverityTime FrameBig Risk(s)
IraqMediumimmediateUS withdrawal precipitates anarchy, eventual Islamic republic and resumption of state support of terrorism
IranHigh1-10 yearsnuclear proliferation; hosting and funding of terrorists; financing and aiding insurrection in Iraq and regional factions in Afghanistan
nuclear proliferation to rogue statesHigh1-5 yearsfailure to dismantle A.Q. Khan's network could lead to nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorist groups and an attack on a Western city (likely Israeli or US, possibly British or French)
VenezuelaMediuma few months to 2 yearsMarxist takeover leads to terrorist support, or civil war, or both
Pakistan - tribal areasMediumimmediatefailure to clean out Taliban remnants and jihadist groups leads to ongoing instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan
N KoreaMedium2-10 yearsnuclear proliferation; internal collapse precipitating conflict between S Korea and China; attack on S Korea to prevent internal collapse
Saudi financing of terrorist groupsMediumimmediatenot only allows cross-border terrorist groups to operate, but provides them with ongoing source of recruits
SyriaMediumimmediatefinancing and hosting of terrorist groups; funding and aiding insurrection in Iraq
EuropeMedium30-50 yearsdemographic collapse combined with influx of unassimilated Muslims could result in civil war
Israel/PakistanLow1-3 yearsrisk of Palestinian civil war/terrorism provoking harsh Israeli response
AfghanistanLowimmediatefailure of central government to gain control over all regions, leading to eventual ability of jihadist groups to regain control
EgyptLow3-15 yearsrisk of Islamist takeover
PakistanLow1-15 yearsrisk of Islamist takeover
SE AsiaLowimmediatevarious terrorist groups operating throughout the area (particularly Philippines and Indonesia)

I'd be interested in others' takes on this list and its details. Also, what am I missing?

Posted by Jeff at 11:52 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Sistani's Gambit

Porphyrogenitus questions Sistani's strategy and motives:

It does make me wonder what he's up to. Did he just have second thoughts on bringing things to the brink? Or did he want to show (again) that he can block anything if he doesn't like it? Is it as simple as people still learning how to deal with and accept compromise?

Here is the background: Ayatollah Sistani is, bar none, the single most influential person in Iraq right now, largely because he stayed virtually entirely out of politics during Saddam's period of rule, while many clerics were corrupted into the effective service of the regime, or killed in the process of resisting. As the most honored and respected Shi'a cleric, Sistani has the ability to make Iraq's move towards representative government impossible, or to greatly aid that move. Ayatollah Sistani has, several times, engaged in brinksmanship, most lately this past weekend over the signing of the interim constitution, threatening to withhold support for (and thus cause to collapse) vital reforms or deals. In the end, in each case, Sistani has backed down and allowed things to go forward without changes.

I have a theory, which needs a lot more evidence before I'm confident in its usefulness as a predictive tool. I believe that Sistani genuinely wants a federated, representative government ruling over a free Iraqi people; which government respects and promotes Islam, but without compelling a particular kind of rule on its citizens. But Iraq has never had such a government, nor has any Arab state, nor have many Muslim states. There is a real danger of Iraq collapsing into anarchy if the US leaves, and the US is hardly famed for its farsighted foreign policy (and with if Kerry wins, that reputation might be borne out yet again).

For the last several decades - longer than the majority of Iraqis have been alive - the government has been a dictatorship of the Sunni minority, and the Shi'a and Kurds in particular were heavily oppressed. Each major Iraqi demographic group wants to be protected. The Kurds want to ensure that the autonomy they achieved under the protection of the "no-fly zones" remains in place, and that they are not disarmed. The Sunni want to make sure that they do not end up on the receiving end of what they were putting out under Saddam.

But what about the Shi'a? At sixty per cent of the population, the Shi'a would be the natural majority under any kind of representative system. So why would Sistani be playing brinksmanship games that threaten to retard an advance towards that system, when under it he and the Shi'a in general would have more power and rights than they've ever had before?

I believe that Sistani is hedging his bets. If the US leaves, Sistani wants the Shi'a united behind him, ready to prevent a resurgence of Sunni tyranny. Certainly, he has to fear the jihadis, who are largely in favor of either violently dividing Iraq or putting the Sunni in control. (Iran notwithstanding, Shi'a is considered heretical by most jihadis.)

If Shari'a were to become the source of Iraqi law, which is almost certainly what the Iranian ayatollahs desire, Sistani risks seeing real control devolve to the jihadis, which Sistani does not seem to desire. (Indeed, he has spoken out directly against the jihadis on more than one occasion.)

So Sistani has to ensure that the Shi'a of Iraq would follow him, and to do that he has to prove that he is their hope of a better future. To do that, he has to be seen as a strong advocate for Shi'a interests - and as capable of influencing the situation directly. In other words, Sistani has to be seen to be strong in order to have the ability to influence events later should the worst happen.

I believe that Sistani's gambit is to threaten, but not actually impede, reform, in order to position himself to pull down the entire enterprise later should the Shi'a be threatened by the new system.

Other possibilities abound, and many of them are plausible. It could be that Sistani truly desires Shari'a law in Iraq, but knows he cannot obtain it until the US leaves. However, in that case, it seems to me that Sistani's best move would be to refuse to either condone or condemn the procedings, but to occasionally issue declarations that the process is not Islamic enough, or is not sufficiently in line with the will of Allah, or some similar tone. In other words, Sistani could remove the perceived legitimacy of the process without actively opposing it. This would allow the process to go forwards, and the US to eventually withdraw, at which point a well-worded fatwa could bring the entire Iraqi system crashing down, leaving the Shi'a in de facto charge and giving Sistani the ability to unilaterally implement Shari'a.

Alternately, if Sistani's intent were to bring about direct autocratic Shi'a rule over Iraq without implementing Shari'a, a similar strategy could be followed, but instead of taking the religious slant, a more secular concern for the unity of all Iraqis could be the focus. You see, Sistani could argue, federalism is all well and good for fractious Western nations put together out of a variety of incompatible philosophies and beliefs, but we Iraqis are all brothers in Islam, servants of the will of Allah. Federalism is a threat to all Iraqis because it divides us into factions. By making such an argument, Sistani might be able to pull off the insertion of a "poison pill" into the Iraqi Constitution, some provision that makes federalism apparently active, but with some room to define federalism to include no actual local authority (such as language that no regional government could override a law approved by a majority referendum of the people, which Sistani could deliver and none of the other groups could).

There are certainly other games that Sistani could be playing, but I haven't yet seen any evidence that Sistani is doing more than hedging his bets.

Posted by Jeff at 10:25 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 07, 2004

Medium-Core

I saw this libertarian purity test a couple of places online, and you know I just had to take it. I scored 52, which means:

You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much.

Well, that's why I started the blog, after all, so my friends could catch a break from me talking so much about politics and governance.

Posted by Jeff at 12:23 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (5)

March 06, 2004

How Kerry Could Win My Vote

After reading Kevin Drum's site, I found myself wondering if there is anything President Bush could say or do to win Kevin's vote. That led me to wonder if there was any way that Senator Kerry could win my vote.

There are a couple of things that disqualify a candidate for my vote immediately. For example, being a pathological liar (think Clinton or Nixon) or too opportunistic a liar (think Johnson or Daschle). Kerry is likely not a pathological liar, but he seems an excessively opportunistic liar (well beyond the norm for a politician).

Kerry's first hurdle will be to convince me he's not an excessively opportunistic liar. To do so, he'll need some really good explanations for his past behavior - in particular, his part in VVAW & his recent wildly-veering positions on issues.

Once the elimination questions are over, the next thing I think about is a candidate's stand on issues of critical importance. There are only a few of these for me that matter for the President:

  • Protection of the US from foreign enemies
  • Protection of the Constitution against domestic attempts to circumvent or abrogate it
  • Lessening the size - and in particular the intrusiveness - of the Federal government

So far Kerry has done little to convince me that he will be better than President Bush on any of these issues, even with the somewhat low bar set by President Bush on the last two of those.

I doubt that we will ever get to the point that I need to list the secondary issues that are of import to me. If Kerry can convince me that he will be better at prosecuting the war on terror, better at defending the Constitution against attacks against it (particularly by activist judges who read their prejudices into law) and/or lessening the influence of Federal government, I'll be glad to start listing lesser issues that will become more important in helping me decide.

Posted by Jeff at 06:22 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

The Role of Drugs in Leftist Campaign Strategy

Whatever drugs Kevin Drum is taking must be very effective at changing one's perception of reality.

UPDATE: Pejman saves me the trouble of responding in detail.

Posted by Jeff at 04:55 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

Food for Thought

Norm Geras has an interesting post on the limits of national sovereignty.

Posted by Jeff at 10:06 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 05, 2004

Venezuela Falling Apart

Venezuela is falling apart, with Hugo Chavez at this point effectively attempting to stifle all sources of opposition. Now, they're coming for the guns. If the people of Venezuela do not soon rise up in armed revolt, they will be unable to do so.

The thing is, we have a couple of choices here (ignoring the ever-popular "hope for the best"): we can use similar anti-Communist strategies to those used in the 1980s in Latin America - fund, arm and train an indigenous resistance - or we can intervene. Intervention, at this point when we are so deeply committed elsewhere, would almost certainly mean a mobilization of much of the Guard and Reserve land forces - not a trivial or quick thing to do. In other words, at best, we'd be unable to do anything meaningful for at least six months after start of preparations. This leaves us with the slow road, arming a domestic resistance, possibly accelerated by a trade embargo and blockade.

The problem is, Venezuela could easily become, under Chavez, an anti-American haven for terrorists. They are also a major oil exporter, and thus likely to be able to get around a blockade by using pipelines.

Ugly, ugly problem.

Posted by Jeff at 09:31 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

What's at Stake

Victor Davis Hanson explains what's at stake in this year's election.

Just as a presidency of earlier ossified liberals like Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale probably would have led to support of a utopian nuclear freeze and subsequent Russian intimidation of Europe, unilateral cuts in military preparedness, and acquiescence to the Soviet Union, so too the election of John Kerry may well undo much of what has been achieved these last three years as we return to the old, normal way of doing business.

With Howard Dean gone, Kerry realizes that suddenly he must move rightward to sound tougher than George Bush. Finally, he seems to understand that every northern liberal Democrat in the last 30 years who ran to the left on national security lost badly — like McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis. And so Mr. Kerry abruptly will have to talk grandly of what he would have done to make us more secure. Yet a better guide is his own record in opposing defense programs, in harboring a chronic suspicion of using American force, and his own contradictory past votes about deployments to the Middle East.

More likely, if President Bush loses, the war against terror will return, as promised, to the status of a police matter — subpoenas and court trials the more appropriate response to the mass murder of 3,000 at the "crime scene" of the crater in New York. Europe will be assured that our troops will stay while we apologize for the usual litany of purported unilateral sins. North Korea will get more blackmail cash, while pampered South Korean leftists resume their "sunshine" mirage. Iraq will be turned over to the U.N. as we abruptly leave, and could dissolve into something like the Balkans between 1991 and 1998. Iran and Syria will let out a big sigh of relief — as American diplomats once more sit out on the tarmac in vain hopes of an "audience" with despots. The Saudis will smile that smile. Arafat will be assured that he is now once again a legitimate interlocutor. And strangest of all, the American Left will feel that the United States has just barely begun to return to its "moral" bearings — even as its laxity and relativism encourage some pretty immoral things to come.

If White House politicos figured that many who were angered about out-of-control federal spending and immigration proposals would grumble, but not abandon Mr. Bush — given the global stakes involved after September 11, and the specter of a new alternative foreign policy far to the left of that of a Warren Christopher and Madeline Albright — then they were absolutely right.


If Lieberman had been the Democrat choice for President, my vote would have been up for grabs. At the least, I would not have worried much about Lieberman winning. As it is, I'm very unsettled at the possibility of Kerry winning; not so much for what will happen in the next 4 years, as the 10 or 15 after that. (Hat tip to Porphyrogenitus, from an article which also has a bit from Lieberman which explains why I feel about him the way that I do.)

UPDATE: Here's more, via Pejman. Is Kerry really serious here (or anywhere?): Kerry voted for the war in Iraq because he believed that President Bush didn't mean what he said, and because the President didn't lie (presumably, as Kerry believes the President should), the President implicitly lied? WTF???

Posted by Jeff at 07:43 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

Unsolicited Advice

Ms. Pastorek:

First, get a life; you seem to have lost yours. Perhaps it's hiding behind the condescension.

Second, broaden your circle of blog reading - you haven't even touched the surface. You're still apparently caught in a self-referential local loop.

Third, if blogs are ruining your life, why are you reading this? I'm just, you know, asking.

Posted by Jeff at 07:09 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

If you Want Neat and Tidy...

Some last-minute issues have cropped up with the interim Iraqi Consitution. The two most significant ones apparently have to do with the process of approval of the final Constitution next year, and the size of the Presidential Council:

Hamid al-Bayati, from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said one major point of contention was a clause on a referendum due to be held next year to approve a permanent constitution once it has been drawn up.

The clause states that even if a majority of Iraqis approves the constitution, it can be vetoed if two-thirds of voters in three provinces reject it. The clause was inserted by the Kurds, who run three provinces in northern Iraq and want the power to veto any attempt to rein in their considerable autonomy.
[snip]
Governing Council sources said another point of disagreement was the structure of Iraq's presidential council. They said Shi'ites wanted a five-member rather than a three-member presidential council, with three Shi'ites, a Sunni and a Kurd.


I realize that the Shi'a want to have the majority voice. However, their 60% majority, and the tendency of demographics to take a hand over the long-term, argue against giving in to the Shi'a on either of these points.

The veto provision at issue would allow any of the three major ethnic groups to veto to permanent Constitution if they felt sufficiently endangered by it. (The geographical dispersal of these groups in Iraq is minimal.) Without such a provision, effectively only the Shi'a could veto it.

The second provision at issue would give the Shi'a effective control, because if the three Shi'a members of the council wanted to trample the Kurds and Sunni, their representatives would be outnumbered by the Shi'a members.

In both cases, what is apparent is an attempt by the Shi'a to gain and make permanent their control. Such an attempt could eventually lead to a massive armed resistence on the part of the Kurds and Sunni - to civil war.

As one [Iraqi?] official apparently said: "If you want neat and tidy, get a dictatorship."

UPDATE: Porphyrogenitus has more.

UPDATE (03/08): Fortunately, the Constitution was signed without major changes.

Posted by Jeff at 06:57 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Iran's Great Game

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has an interesting post on the power relationships affecting Iran, and the response of the ayatollahs to those power relationships. One thing that is apparent from the overall shape of the post, but which the comments by and large seem to have missed, is that Iran's ayatollahs are juggling tigers. Consider what the ayatollahs are dealing with:

  • an educated, largely pro-Western population, mostly young, whose demands for political reform were so ignored that they are turning into demands for freedom instead;
  • border populations of Shi'a with no fealty to Iran's ayatollahs and living under increasing freedom and safety;
  • an openly-hostile US led by a President who has followed his rhetoric with carefully-considered forceful action, who stands an excellent chance of being President for four more years, who named Iran second in a list of three nations who form "an axis of evil", and who is willing to use force to prevent hostile nations from obtaining nuclear weapons;
  • large US armies sitting on two land borders of Iran, one of which can easily be supplied by sea, and both of which are capable of stockpiling serious amounts of war supplies in advance;
  • a long coastline controlled by the US Navy, and a narrow route for Iran's major commodity, oil, to be shipped through; which route is also controlled by the US Navy;
  • both Israeli and US will and capability to undertake armed attacks on resources for nuclear weapons production.

Joe's analysis of the ayatollahs' options is very nicely done: oppress the Iranian populace, destabilize Afghanistan and Iraq, attempt to sway Shi'a populations outside of Iran into a de facto deference to the Iranian ayatollahs, attack Israel by proxy and attempt to ratchet up the violence there, and create numerous terrorist threats that America cannot afford to ignore.

Now, let's look at the American side. Our situation is as follows:

  • The Iranians are acting in accordance with the strategy mentioned above.
  • The Syrians and Saudis are also attempting to tie down US power, while ensuring that Iraqi moves towards self-rule stall and eventually fail. The Syrians are apparently behind almost as much of the unrest in Iraq as Iran is. The Saudis apparently prefer to link terrorists with resources, and provide cash, training and ideological justification to terrorists.
  • The ongoing occupation of Iraq ties down a significant number of troops while the security situation and border control are unresolved.
  • Significant elements of the American body politic are either unaware of the threats America faces; or unwilling to confront them openly and honestly; or believe that confronting these threats will exacerbate, rather than lessen, our vulnerability. In addition, there is a very small, but vocal and influential, part of the American body politic which actively empathizes with our enemies and considers America itself to be the primary danger to humanity.
  • During this election year, any large-scale actions against other nations would be politically suicidal, in that even were the President to prevail on the policy, the divisions stirred up in America by partisans over any such actions would outweigh the benefits of undertaking the action. This is true so long as no imminent and existential threat exists, but could change if, for example, Iran demonstrated a working nuclear weapon. (That is, any threat horizon more than six months out is not worth considering in this context.)
  • Our post-WWII alliances are in a huge state of flux. Many traditional allies (not least the Axis of Weasels) apparently believe that limiting American power and influence is more important - at least more urgent - than confronting the terrorist threat to us and them alike. At the same time, many of those allies who have been with us up to now (the UK for example) are either overcommitted or politically incapable of following up with future actions, at least until their forces are no longer needed in Iraq. New potential allies such as Afghanistan and Iraq are in no shape to assist outside their own borders, and in fact need substantial assistence from the US within their own borders.

Before formulating a plan for American action over the next few years, there are a couple of pre-requisite realizations that we must make. First, there are different ways, equally valid, to prioritize tasks to undertake. Despite snarkiness from some, such as Tacitus contributors fabius and democritus, it is simply not possible simultaneously to undertake every task we wish to take. Resources are limited, and threats have to be dealt with in a certain order. In some cases, reasonable people can disagree about the order.

Second, the US does not merely have to defend in place against the attempts by Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia - and to a lesser extent Russia, France and China - to prevent us from acting in our own interest. Right now, we're largely playing defense, because we are not yet at the point where our resources exceed our needs. However, Afghanistan is really pretty quiet at this point, at least in a strategic sense, and Iraq appears to be moving in that direction. Once an interim government is in place in Iraq, and more police and border guards are trained, our hand will be considerably freer. But, as with the domestic political sitatuation, this argues against major action this year.

Our high-priority tasks are: removal of the Iranian ayatollahs from power before Iran acquires nuclear weapons; completely dismantling the nuclear proliferation regime set up by A. Q. Khan; further disrupting the terrorist organizations, particularly in Pakistan, India and Lebanon; stabilizing Iraq.

Our medium-priority tasks are: removal of the Syrian regime from power; shutting down the influence of fundamentalist elements (primarily Wahhabi) in Saudi Arabia; bolstering European nations - particularly France, Germany and the Low Countries - to be able to withstand turmoil among or open revolt by the unassimilated immigrant Muslim communities in their nations; reshaping or enlarging the military to be able to undertake multiple simultaneous invasions, interventions or occupations; spreading Enlightenment ideals throughout the Arab/Muslim world, and reinforcing those ideals in Western Europe.

In formulating a plan for the next several years, it is tempting to look at the threats and challenges to the US, along with the limitations of the US and our allies, and simply give up. This actually seems to be the Democrat strategy, by and large, and it's the major reason I cannot vote for Kerry. Despite his Johnnie-come-lately attempts to sound like he's aware that we are actually at war, and cares, he's done little to lay out a plan of action, and doesn't have a history to make any such plan credible. Sending envoys to N. Korea and Iran and threatening to scowl at them is not going to improve our safety at all. So what plan should we undertake?

Certain actions are already underway. We are addressing at least some of the high and medium priorities I listed above: restructuring the Army, spreading Enlightenment ideals in the Arab/Muslim world, disrupting Taliban and al Qaida remnants in Pakistan and working to stabilize Iraq. I suspect that, behind the scenes, we are also doing a huge amount of work to dismantle the off-the-shelf nuclear weapons market set up by A. Q. Khan. We can argue about the effectiveness of methods and the relative priorities, but these at least seem to be actively being undertaken by the US at this time.

This ties up some of our capabilities. A large part of our conventional ground force is tied up in Iraq, and some part of our special forces are tied up in Iraq and also along the Afghan/Pakistani border. This rules out an invasion of Iran or Syria this year. A large part of our law enforcement and intelligence capability is currently focused on limiting the damage caused by Khan's activities, meaning that significant undercover activities will be limited.

Of the high-priority tasks that are not currently being undertaken (or at least, that I don't know about), Iran is the big question mark. I think that we have some options this year, though, that make it possible to return Iran to representative government next year.

First, we should undertake to inhibit Iran's nuclear weapons program. I would do this in three ways: first, conventional attacks on known nuclear sites (such as Bushehr); second, recruiting or assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists; and third, sabotage.

Second, we should fund and encourage Iranian dissidents. Propaganda is effective in this kind of situation, as is the provision of supplies and promises of support and normalization of relations (and we should have the means to back this up!). We can use Iraqi and Afghan territory as a staging base for special forces attacks against regime allies, particularly against terrorist bases in Iran. If the ayatollahs cannot stop us, they will look weak, and that could be fatal to them.

Third, we should attack Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Marines are largely available (I believe about 1/3 of the Marine combat units are currently deployed), are effective at littoral operations (which all of Lebanon is), and have a score to settle. Taking down Hezbollah in the Beka'a Valley, in particular, would be incredibly damaging to both Iran (Hezbollah is their major overseas action arm) and Syria (who would lose face from not being able to keep us out of Lebanon, which they occupy). If the Syrians were determined to actively resist US action in Lebanon, they have to face the possibility of a two-front war, since the US could also attack from Iraq if we had to. The Iranians would be unable to provide sufficient support in time to make a difference, and Hezbollah would be forced to run for the hills. At that point, we could reestablish and support local Christian militias, with help from Israel (who used to be supporters of these militias) to aid in keeping Hezbollah on the defensive.

Each of these steps can be done with different resources which are currently available to the US. Each of them would assist in destabilizing our enemies and putting them on the defensive.

And next year, if Iraq's stability increases as expected, the rotation of troops in Iraq could easily be turned into a surge for an invasion of Iran. It is possible, but not likely, that Iran could develop nuclear weapons in a year. However, with the active interventions described above, we should be able to prevent that. At that point, there would be a single belt of US force stretching from Afghanistan to Iraq. Hopefully, the Arab/Muslim world would then begin to reevaluate its options, and maybe think about modernization and democratization. If not, we could be ready for Syria and Saudi Arabia by 2007.

Posted by Jeff at 05:11 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (7)

We Didn't Know, but We Knew

This was the suicide note of the mayor of Ohrdruf, Germany and his wife in 1945: "We didn't know, but we knew." The mayor and his wife, along with the citizens of the town, were ordered to dig graves for the dead at the concentration camp outside of town. They did, and then the mayor and his wife hanged themselves.

Some day, history will judge us as harshly over North Korea's misery as we judge the WWII generation (particularly in Europe) for their failure to stop the death camps sooner. We have no excuse, because we know, no matter how much we try to deny it.

Posted by Jeff at 03:11 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 04, 2004

As Long as There's Nothing More Important to Worry About

So it seems that some idiot believes that chess is racist:

Everyone knows that in a chess game white moves first.

This abstractly implies that white has a distinct advantage over black because black has to always take a defensive stand. Some see this as a continuing form of racism and want to change the rules of the game. Bill Ware, a devoted chess player, is one of these people and has come up with a new form of chess.
[snip]
Bill Ware plans on removing color superiority by allowing the pieces to either be the same or different colors such as red, blue, green, etc. The determining factor on who moves first depends on what square the queen sits on.

Chess is played on a grid and each square has a variable of A-H, and a number of 1-8.

According to Ware, whichever queen sits on the square D-1, that is the team that moves first. This way, nether color has priority or an inherent right to move first.


Interesting. Interesting. How are the values of the squares defined? By where white sits! I guess it's back to the drawing board for Ware.

At least there's nothing more important to worry about than whether chess is racist.

Posted by Jeff at 11:09 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 03, 2004

That's Easy

The Independent has an article which starts:

If the human race as a whole, rather than 50 states plus the District of Colombia, could cast a ballot this coming November, John Kerry would surely win the presidency by a landslide.

Unfortunately for President Bush-haters around the world, only the 200 million United States citizens of voting age will have that right - and the outcome is anything but sure.


Well, let's see, if the whole world could vote for President, the winner would be the candidate who promised to take money from the rich (the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, Israel, etc) and give to the poor (the Arabs, the Africans, the impoverished nations of Asia and Central/South America, etc). In other words, the Democrat would win every time. Just like in domestic politics, why work for something when others are willing to give it to you for free?

Posted by Jeff at 10:02 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 02, 2004

Being a Mom

There are some amazing things about moms. Like, for example, being able to recognize a 6-year old as her daughter, whom she thought dead in a fire when 10 days old:

PHILADELPHIA, March 1 -- A 10-day-old girl thought to have died in a 1997 fire was actually kidnapped by a woman who set the blaze to cover her tracks, police said Monday. The birth mother contacted authorities after seeing the girl, now 6 years old, at a birthday party and recognizing the child as her own.

Delimar Vera was thought to have perished in the 1997 blaze in her family's home. No body was ever found.

In January, the child's mother spotted a little girl and was certain she was her daughter, police Capt. John Darby said. An investigation prompted DNA tests that confirmed the mother's suspicion, police said.

After the DNA confirmation, the child's mother "didn't know whether to cry, to yell or to scream," Officer Manuel Gonzales said. "She just stood in shock."

Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of Carolyn Correa, 41, of Willingboro, N.J., on charges of arson, kidnapping and conspiracy. She remained at large Monday; a telephone listing for her could not be found.

"This child, now 6 years old, who has been raised by Carolyn Correa as her own, is not her own," Darby said.

The girl's mother, Luz Cuevas, told WPHL-TV she recognized the child from a dimple on her face. "I said to my sister, 'Look, she's my daughter,' " Cuevas said.

The girl was placed in the custody of New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services. It was not immediately clear when she would be reunited with her birth mother.

Posted by Jeff at 11:22 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 01, 2004

Conflict of Interest

A friend of mine made a simple and obvious comment the other day, the kind that makes you smack your head because you didn't phrase it that way automatically: "There is an inherent conflict of interest when the credential showing completion of an education is granted by the institution responsible for providing the education."

Yes. That's it exactly. The standing of the teachers' unions on education is based on the ability of their members to educate children. If they fail to educate children, the unions will eventually lose their credibility, and thus a large measure of their political power. The teachers' unions hate standardized testing and other measures of accountability, because these measures allow the performance of teachers to be judged objectively. Similarly, they hate consistent standards, because they're harder to game than feel-good measurements.

High-school diplomas used to be a measure of accomplishment, and many employers required them as a benchmark that at least their new hires could read, write. do math and reason logically. Because high-school diplomas were a benchmark, schools began to promote everyone they could, and flunk no one for any reason they could possibly get around; the administrators and teachers did not want to be responsible for their students not being able to get a job. Inevitably, standards declined to a minimum and then were eliminated altogether.

As the public education establishment deteriorated, college degrees became the benchmark of choice, because you could not guarantee that a high-school diploma meant anything, but you could be pretty sure that a college graduate could read, write, do math and reason logically. The colleges, though, were (and are) operating under a handicap: their incoming students are frequently illiterate, innumerate and incapable of reasoning, while being filled with an excess of belief in their own self-worth that often makes them unwilling to change their behavior. In response, many colleges are ... dumbing down. Big surprise, huh?

Many employers already test their employees, with any job offers contingent on passing the test. The tests generally measure basic English reading comprehension skills, basic math skills (simple calculation and sometimes simple algebra), basic reasoning (if these two things are true, which of the following is probably not true) and frequently also psychological factors. But this is very wasteful for employers, because there is no efficiency of scale - there's no way for businesses to rely on (or even know about) other employers' testing, so there's no way to share information. (Don't even get started on the legal ramifications of company A sharing testing information about fired employee E with company B, who then denies a job to employee E.)

I sense a business opportunity here. A company whose sole job was testing people for literacy, numeracy, logic and such could provide the bridge between people wanting good jobs and employers wanting good workers. By issuing ratings on a scale, the employer could match jobs to potential employees (for example, a computer programmer would need high logic, numeracy and literacy scores, while a telephone solicitor would really only need good speaking ability). Extras - such as a certificate of skill in various activities - could both add to the bottom line and enhance the job seeker's position.

The big problem is that of bootstrapping the process. You would have to get a large number of businesses to accept an externally-issued credential in order to get people to pay you to obtain the credentials. You would have to get a lot of people to obtain the credentials in order for them to be useful to businesses.

Must think about this.

Posted by Jeff at 04:51 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

Tivoli Access Manager and Oblix NetPoint do not Play Together

It appears that Kaiser Permanente might be following down the track of GM and the Federal Reserve in implementing a split authentication/authorization solution, using Tivoli Access Manager for controlling access to the network, and Oblix NetPoint for user management. GM did this first, and made it work, to about the same level that the Bureau of Indian Affairs can be said to work (that is to say, badly, and hardly as a service to its users). However, the implementation is prone to crashing, not suitable for high-availability, requires bastarization of your directory server (this is an Access Manager fault in general - you have to redefine inetOrgPerson if you have any custom attributes, which frequently breaks other apps that actually expect you to follow the standards), and has serious performance issues (again, this is a characteristic largely of Access Manager, though PDLink adds its own issues).

The Federal Reserve is currently implementing this (well, reimplementing; the first two attempts were not exactly stellar examples of IT success), and the issues to overcome are enormous. If you are thinking of putting in an access and identity management solution, please, please take my advice and do not hybridize Access Manager and NetPoint. Just pick one and use that (I would lean towards Oblix, but there could be various characteristics of your environment which would mitigate against that).

Posted by Jeff at 02:48 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Porphyrogenitus on America's 21st Century Foreign Policy

I've been waiting for the series to conclude before posting an index to Porphyrogenitus' America's 21st Century Foreign Policy, but since he's already published an index, I'll just point you there. Porphyrogenitus looks at our foreign policy future in terms of what goal we desire, and how we can go about obtaining it. He contrasts this with past policy. The result is a very useful series for sharpening your thoughts on foreign policy.

Posted by Jeff at 10:57 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

What are Your Kids Reading at School?

One of the reasons that I cannot stand the direction taken by public "education" in the US is the reading materials. Gone are any attempts to study Western culture - I've seen reports on school districts banning everything from Mark Twain (racist) to The Iliad (sexist!) to The Red Badge of Courage (violent). But, apparently, there are still books that can be read by kids in public schools.

Posted by Jeff at 10:41 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

Heroism and Free Will

There's a great discussion at One-Sixteenth on Frodo, heroism and free will.

Posted by Jeff at 10:30 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)