October 31, 2004

Book of the Dead

Witches celebrate Halloween as Samhain. Samhain, pronounced SA-win or SA-vin, marks the end of harvests with the slaughter of livestock before Winter; the start of the Winter (and Dark) half of the year; and the time of completion, when plans begun in Spring are finished. It is a time of endings, and it is a festival of the dead, where we celebrate those who have gone before us.

This year, our family celebrates the lives of two relatives who passed this year.

Virgie May Walls (neé Medcalf), age 66, my aunt. One of the most musical of a musical family, Virgie was also athletic (she played basketball in high school, in fact) and loving, a most wonderful person.

Kathy Latham, age about 75, Stephanie's grandmother. Kathy was the only great-grandparent who survived long enough for our kids to meet her. We went to Alabama in the Spring, where her children, grand-children, and great grandchildren had all gathered for a week.

They are both missed.

Posted by Jeff at 12:29 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

October 29, 2004

A Hopefully-Temporary Condition

Usama bin Laden appears to be more alive than I'd hoped, but about what I'd expected. Hopefully this condition will be temporary.

Interesting that he hasn't changed his appearance. This means that he is probably in what he considers a safe area, which would just about have to be Iran or his tribal area in Saudi Arabia at this point.

Posted by Jeff at 03:47 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

You Get What You Vote For

I'm hearing a lot of people lately "reasoning" that Kerry will be just fine, because he "can't afford" to pull out of Iraq, "knows better" than to do so, or some other claptrap. I just have this to say: if John Kerry is elected president, it will be my fondest hope that he has noble goals for America and succeeds - particularly that he succeeds in defeating terrorism and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to terror-supporting states.

But, and this is a rather large "but", I don't expect it. When Bill Clinton was running for President in 1992, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that he was a relentlessly self-obsessed womanizer and a compulsive liar. Whether or not you think he was a useful or effective president, it's pretty hard to deny he's exactly what he seemed like during the campaign.

Similarly, Kerry has been quite consistent on a few points of both policy and character. A Kerry administration would shrink from conflict where America's interests were at stake, would abandon our coalition partners and suck up to the French and Germans instead, and would give the UN an effective veto over US foreign policy. Kerry would shrink the military, stop or dramatically slow procurement of new weapons and equipment, hobble our intelligence services, allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and quite probably withdraw from Iraq before actually securing a victory there. Kerry would always choose bigger government and higher taxes over all other considerations, and would do his best to enact the most Leftist agenda ever attempted by a president. All the while, he would smugly enthuse about how all of us proles just don't understand his intelligence and nuance. Kerry will claim that everything good is his doing, personally, and everything bad is the failure of some underling or political opponent.

Go ahead and vote for him if you think that's best, but don't go acting all surprised later.

Posted by Jeff at 01:53 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

October 28, 2004

No Other Options

Mike at Cold Fury asks a few questions:

In the end, politics doesn’t rule my life, and if Kerry wins I’m not going to find myself out in the streets on November 3rd with a rifle sighted in on one of my countrymen and my finger slowly tightening on the trigger. I’ll be upset and disappointed about it, and I believe that we’ll all live to regret such an outcome, and I’ll go right on shouting at the wind from here about it just as I’ve been doing for the last three years. But that’s about as far as I’ll go. I can get along with just about anybody, and I have way too many liberal friends—close friends, real friends—to imagine for a moment going to war with them over any single election. But the question I’m really asking here is ultimately this: are there any conceivable circumstances under which I would do just that?

Are there any conceivable circumstances under which you would?

Are there any conceivable circumstances under which any of us would?

And…should there be?

And…what does it really say about us if we decide there aren’t?

It's actually one question, and one I've pondered a lot: how far would you go to be free?

To answer that, you first have to define "free". Most people think that you're either "free" or "not free". Not so. Freedom is a continuum. Are you, for example, "not free" if you cannot legally yell fire in a crowded theater? What if you can't yell "liar" at a corrupt politician?

Absolute freedom actually has a name, anarchy, and it comes with some problems: if your freedom is absolute, and my freedom is absolute, what do we do when you want my wife? Are we willing to have a society based upon warlordism and rule by strongmen? Because that's where anarchy gets you, and in short order. The lack of any freedom also has a name, tyranny, and one hopes its problems are obvious.

So the question is, on which issues will you compromise your freedoms to create a workable society, and on which will you not?

In theory, I'd prefer a society in which very, very little was forbidden to the individual citizens, and even less was legally (as opposed to morally) required of the individual citizens. Moreover, I'd prefer that the powers of government be somewhat limited at the local level, and become more limited as the scope of government widens, so that the Federal government has almost no powers. In other words, I'd be pretty happy with the situation as it was in the early- to mid-1800s, with a few exceptions (mostly slavery and voting rights provisions).

In practice, I'm willing to allow a lot without taking up arms. For example, I accept (unhappily) all of the following, rather than fighting for greater freedom: confiscatory taxation at unconscionable rates; unreasonable searches and seizures; violations of free speech, even free political speech; usurpation of legislative power by the courts; compelled disclosure of information to government officials on any number of pretexts; compulsory participation in a number of government schemes from health care to retirement savings; government interference in many areas of life that are just fine - better even - without that interference; limitations on gun rights; limitations on property rights; limitations on religious freedoms and a number of other examples.

Is there a line? I think Thomas Jefferson said it best:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Is there a line? Yes, absolutely. You see, I've got nowhere else to go. If government becomes destructive of the ends of ensuring the liberty of the people, I cannot simply move elsewhere and be free. Canada is lovely; I enjoyed living in Calgary for half a year. I have a great affinity for Germany, and am sure I'd love Poland or the British Isles as well. But I could not be a citizen or subject of any of them, nor of Israel, nor even of Australia, and here is why: every other place on Earth is less free than the US, except for those places which are utter anarchies. I've got nowhere else to go that would improve upon my lot.

So what is the line? I will not stand for compulsory government service; impoverishing taxation; severe and persistent suppression of freedom of speech and the press; establishment of a State religion or forbidding the free practice of religion; the use of the military or Federal law enforcement against civilians who disagree, peacefully, with government politicians or policies; excessive regulation of freedom of assembly; widespread confiscation of property; abrogation of the right to a trial by a jury of my peers, with the government required to prove its case based on a high standard; or an attempt to surrender to a foreign power. Any of these would be sufficient cause for me to take up arms in defense of my freedoms. Less than that, I'd rather avoid another civil war.

You'll notice that I didn't put anything in there about elections and voting. There's a common misconception going around that representative selection of the government is the only "free" way to be governed. It's crap, of course: the purpose of government is not to give everyone a say in their own governance, but "to secure these [certain unalienable] rights [among which are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness]". Any form of government that secures natural rights for all citizens is a worthy one, regardless of how it is selected.

Yes, it is a requirement that the governed consent, and that is why we have a second amendment: to allow for meaningful dissent from and if necessary forcible replacement of the government. ("Bushitler" placards are all well and good, but if the people waving those banners meant it and had any sense of self-worth, they'd kill any President they thought was making the US into a fascist state. The reason they don't, of course, is that they want the US to be a tyranny, as long as they are the ones in charge.)

But there is no requirement for elections per se. Rather, elections have simply proven a better means of ensuring that the government respects the rights of its citizens consistently than any other mechanism, including any number of forms of benevolent dictatorship and monarchism. If I felt that there was some council of wise men to whom I could hand power, who would be able to permit me more freedoms and not become an entrenched, kleptocratic, tyrannical dictatorship, I'd have no real objection to that method of governance.

Well, one objection: there simply aren't humans who could be given the keys of absolute rulership without becoming entrenched, kleptocratic and tyrannical. Heck, there aren't that many who can be given power over half a dozen subordinates without becoming entrenched, kleptocratic and tyrannical after a while.

Thus the beauty of a Republic: the government can be removed by the people, but are selected indirectly, so that it is not directly responsible to the people, and their waves of passion over events. Indeed, giving up the Republic with direct election of Senators and the near-direct election of the President was one of our gravest errors. Combined with the erosion of Federalism, it has meant that we are essentially a Democracy, and thus sliding towards mob rule. And the more powerful government becomes, the more we will trend in that direction. Which, by the way, is why elections are becoming so heated: there's way too much at stake, and it's effectively winner-take-all.

Anyway, I don't want to take up arms against my countrymen. I don't want to have to go through a civil war to be free, and ensure that my children are free. But if I had to, I would, because I've got nowhere else to go. Unless, of course, we manage to get off this rock, in which case I'll have another option.

Posted by Jeff at 12:54 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

October 27, 2004

They told us we were shooting a Greenpeace commercial!

Clearly, I don't agree with the message here, but it's absolutely hilarious. It's a shame that Kerry supporters don't take themselves less seriously more often. Heck, it's a shame that most people in politics don't take themselves less seriously more often. (hat tip: The Wild Hunt)

Posted by Jeff at 10:11 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Iraq So Far

Wizbang provides a summary of Iraq so far, starting before the invasion and continuing until now. The summary is comprehensive and well-written, and a worthwhile big-picture antidote to the sensation-seeking coverage of most media and the frankly dishonest sloganeering of the Kerry campaign and its allies. While the piece has some flaws, such as not discussing the success of the US in hunting down former regime leaders or to discuss the problem of finding Iraq's stockpiles of weapons dispersed throughout Iraq before the war, that should not detract from the achievement. For a one-stop discussion of the case for war that Bush actually made (broader and deeper than the media and the Kerry campaign credit), the pre-war situation, the effect of Turkey's refusal to allow 4ID to attack through Turkey into northern Iraq, the looting and options available at the time to stop it, disasters predicted but avoided, the beginning of the insurgency and the efforts to combat the insurgency to date, this is the best place to go that I have yet found.

Posted by Jeff at 01:59 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Let's Try Freedom

I discovered Bob Hayes's "Let's Try Freedom" blog after getting an email from him. An excellent blog, of which the most interesting recent posts include:

A reminder of a citizen's responsibilities to defend their Republic. This is a point that cannot be made too often, and one of President Bush's greatest failings in my eyes is that he is too government-oriented to have made or to make a call for citizen participation in our collective defense. Glenn Reynolds calls this idea "a pack, not a herd." Reynolds gives as an example of this philosophy the perfect case of the ball dropped: the Washington, DC snipers. Why did the mayor or the governor not call out the militia? This was the perfect time and place for it. And as Hayes notes, it is our responsibility as citizens to take on these burdens for our own and the common good.

A reason why he switched from pro-choice to anti-abortion. On a moral level I agree with him here, and in fact have flipped my position on abortion in the same way, and for similar reasons. On a political level, though, if we can't have a political debate and come to a reasonable compromise (and we cannot do so as long as the Supreme Court mandates a solution and everyone else accepts that solution), I would rather the Federal government be kept completely away from abortion, than have the Federal government able to mandate a single nationwide policy.

A four-part defense of the electoral college here, here, here and here.

A rather unconventional take on the proper behavior of hostages in Iraq. It's one I happen to agree with: if you're captured, fight. At least don't give them the propaganda.

Definitely a new addition to the blogroll.

Posted by Jeff at 12:38 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

October 26, 2004

Castro's Fall

Not being a fan of the State Department for various reasons, it is rare for me to praise one of their officials. (Actually, that's backwards: if I had more occasions to praise its officials, I'd likely be more of a fan of the State Department.) Anyway, here's a praiseworthy excerpt from Richard Boucher:

QUESTION: Did you hear that Castro fell?

MR. BOUCHER: We heard that Castro fell. There are, I think, various reports that he broke a leg, an arm, a foot, and other things, and I'd guess you'd have to check with the Cubans to find out what's broken about Mr. Castro. We, obviously, have expressed our views about what's broken in Cuba.

QUESTION: Do you wish him a speedy recovery?


QUESTION: No? Do you wish him a speedy demise?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll leave the man's health alone. I think our view --

QUESTION: Would you have preferred that his injuries be more life threatening? (Laughter.) People have come out, including your former boss --

MR. BOUCHER: I know.

QUESTION: -- and said things like, well, we hope the actuarial tables catch up with Mr. Castro. Are you disappointed that he wasn't more seriously wounded?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to express that kind of disappointment. I think, you know, the events speak for themselves. The situation in Cuban is of our primary concern. The situation of Mr. Castro is of little concern to us, but unfortunately of enormous importance to the people of Cuba, who have suffered very long under his rule. And we think that the kind of rule that Cuba has had should be ended.

QUESTION: Do you think if he stepped aside -- that's an "if" question, of course -- whoever succeeds him would provide any policy more to the U.S.'s liking than Castro has?

MR. BOUCHER: It would be highly speculative for me to say that at this point, except to note that we do think the people of Cuba deserve democracy. They, like everybody else in the world, deserve a chance to choose their own fate and future, and that the Secretary of State co-chaired an effort on behalf of this Administration last year to identify what we can do to hasten that day and what we can do when that day comes to support the people of Cuba, as they have found their own democracy, which is something we have strong confidence that they will someday be able to do.

Posted by Jeff at 08:32 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

October 25, 2004


Brian James Dunn has an interesting short note on logistics issues, with a focus on the "just in time" logistics model the military is moving to. I don't have the reference to hand, so the details may be off, yet still Mr. Dunn need not worry. If I remember correctly, the standard is 3-6 weeks of supplies on hand (depending on the category) with more in the pipe, so that as the in-theater supplies are depleted, those stocks are replaced. This should ensure a steady supply to the front.

The shortage in supplies during the Iraq campaign was not actually caused by a shortage of supplies in theater. Instead, the armored advance moved so much more quickly than forecast that it was difficult with the trucks available to make enough round trips to keep everyone fully supplied all the time. That said, the incidents of low supplies were mostly limited to the shamal (remember the big red sandstorm) and immediately thereafter, and were mostly limited to non-essential supplies like food. (If you think food is essential, you're thinking too long-term; the supply disruptions as far as I can recall never lasted more than 2 days for any given unit, which gets you hungry, but not dead or incapacitated.)

I think the larger point Dunn makes is worth emphasizing: militaries must not become too efficient. Doing so means that a single-source incident can become disastrous. Consider, for example, with the current rates of small arms ammunition expenditure, how bad it would be if the only US Army small arms ammunition plant were to burn to the ground. In general, the US military can be quite lean in comparison to our enemies, but we must retain some excess capacity in order to be able to absorb losses to any part of the system and still successfully complete the mission.

Posted by Jeff at 08:49 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Francis Porretto takes on comments by Rosie O'Donnell. If that's not the biggest rhetorical overmatch in years, I don't know what would top it.

Posted by Jeff at 08:04 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

October 23, 2004

Yearning for the Mud

John Kerry stands for nothing but election. Gerard van der Leun, in one of the most powerful essays of this political year, explains why.

Posted by Jeff at 11:19 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

October 22, 2004

Take a Hefty Dose of Perspective

This just infuriates me. Now some Wiccans are going the way of some Christians, and decrying Halloween celebrations and decorations because of their religion. Fantastic! Great! Lovely!

Look, I can understand: if you don't have a healthy and balanced view of yourself or your religion, any kind of stereotypical depiction is going to drive you nuts. But the answer to that is to develop a healthy and balanced view of yourself and your religion, not to get up in arms over someone else's celebration.

People are not going to suddenly start having huge bonfires, roasting pigs, and dancing to the glory of the Old Ones just because some school - or even all schools - stops putting up plastic hook-nosed hags. This isn't the Burning Times, and we need to not act as if it is. If we do, what will we say to anyone when the real Witch burners - and yes, there still are some who would happily burn Witches - come for us?

Posted by Jeff at 04:31 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

October 20, 2004

More Government School Issues

Francis Porretto presents two interesting vignettes on government schooling. The first points to an article about Virginia schools teaching about Islam. While the article is a bit overwrought, it strikes me as interesting that any hint of Christianity or Judaism in the schools is utterly forbidden, while Islam is somehow a fit subject for study. Not very consistent that.

The second points out the motivations behind public schooling, and the obvious places it leads. Basically, given that schools and bureaucracies are both inherently authoritarian, schools tend to promote statism. Not a difficult leap, there, but it's probably true that not many people have thought about the connection.

I told Stephanie just last night that it seems to me that as we've increased schooling in this country, we've actually ended up decreasing education, with the peak probably having come some time between about 1910 and 1940. Since WWII in particular, the tendency of schools to engage in faddish behavior, combined with the Gramscian "long march through the institutions" that began in the 1960s, has led to a dramatic drop-off in academic standards and performance, combined (not coincidentally) with a rise in politicization of and activism in the classroom.

Yet more reasons why my children will never attend a public school.

Posted by Jeff at 09:53 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

October 16, 2004

Map-Reading Issues

Dave Schuler at the Glittering Eye has two posts on Barnett's Pentagon's New Map, here and here. I have, actually, similar issues with Barnett's theory. Essentially, it is a great briefing, with a core of real truth, that misses my vision of what's happening in the world by a very, very small amount. Here is the core of Dave's take on it:

The problem with this definition is that it doesn't fit at least three of the putative members of the Core: Russia, China, and India. And these three members constitute, what, half of the human race? Commenter Mark Safranski [ed note: ZenPundit] makes an interesting distinction between New Core and Core at large. In other words, new Core members that aren't yet fully integrated and Core members that are integrated. The implication of this is that Core and Gap aren't distinct categories but constitute a spectrum of connectivity with differing degrees of Core-ness and Gap-ness.

I guess I still don't find that too helpful. What I'm looking for is a decision process. I feed you a set of economic, legal, social, or whatever characteristics of an unnamed country and you tell me whether the country with those features is in the Core or the Gap. Without such a decision process all you have is a denotation of the Gap. They're a collection of countries that are in the Gap because they're in the Gap. And without such a decision process there's no real way of determining how countries now part of the Gap can be incorporated into the Core.

Barnett defines the Core countries as those that are globalised or globalising. The Gap countries are those that are disconnected and not connecting. So, Haiti and Saudi Arabia are like each other because they are not connected in any meaningful way to the rest of the world, while China and India are unlike those countries because they have extensive trade connections, population flows (mostly temporary in both cases, but some permanent migration from India and a little from China), and so forth.

Within the Core, state-on-state war has been made unthinkable. For most Core nations with causes for war with each other, there is a nuclear deterrent effect (which is why I'm glad India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, so long as Pakistan is ruled by a sane and forward-looking ruler). But for the vast majority of Core nations, there's simply no remaining basis for war. What, for example, would England and France fight about, that they couldn't get easier and cheaper by trade or negotiation, or couldn't simply live with? Thus the Core is inherently stable and free of open warfare, though certainly not of conflict. The ordering principle, then, is to bring states into the Core, to shrink the Gap.

However, these definitions of Core and Gap were actually backed into. What Barnett did was to take all of the places where the US had been involved in post-Cold War conflicts, and draw a line around them. Hmmm, he noted from similarity to earlier work on a different project, the areas inside that line are exactly the ones which are not globalising. Brilliant insight, and very useful. But since Barnett was searching for the killer one-page picture to get across a complex idea, the PNM has some oddnesses. Israel is in the Gap. North Korea is not. That's simply not a rational way to divide the world.

So there are some real strengths to PNM in predicting where conflict will likely break out, as long as some oddnesses are taken into account. But there is a deeper flaw in PNM as a theory of organizing the current conflict: it only incorporates a part of the conflict. In addition to the open and covert warfare between the Coalition and the jihadis, there is a conflict within the West, between those who seek to strengthen and defend the West, and those who wish the West to fail utterly and fall sufficiently into ruin that they would be put into power as an act of desperation.

This group does not have a formal name, unless you count perhaps "anti-globalization", which is a simplification. In fact, this group consists of a wide variety of different organizations, from anarchists to transnational progressivists to unreformed Stalinists to neo-Malthusians to neo-Luddites to anti-capitalists. In effect, it is the furthest of the extremist Left.

Now, this group, which I tend to think of as the "anti-Enlightenment Left", is not inherently dangerous. What makes them dangerous is that their arguments are generally couched in language designed to appeal to the moderate Left sympathies, and it does so successfully. Saying that you want Saddam to remain in power because the alternative is likely to be a free democracy is not a winning argument, while saying that Iraq is a sovereign country and as long as it hasn't attacked someone outside Iraq we have no cause to attack Saddam can be a winning argument; it's certainly more palatable. Because the extreme Left can use rhetoric (particularly in an age where many Leftists have been intellectually reared on Chomsky and Derrida) to push the moderate Left to support or oppose actions in ways which sound good (fairness is a common argument for example) but which actually destroy the underpinnings of the West in general, and the US in particular. In order for these groups to gain power, individualism in particular must fall, and with it must fall capitalism and the supporting doctrines (like Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness) that empower individuals.

Note the similarity to terrorism. Absent state sponsorship, terrorism is not particularly threatening, because the terrorist cells are small and incapable of the sophisticated planning and training that is necessary to carry out mass-casualty attacks. But the jihadis are able to appeal to more moderate Muslims, with arguments about Israel, memories of colonial domination, and appeals to certain aspects of Islam (such as doctrines about women and non-Muslims and their respective rights). These arguments carry enough weight that it is relatively simple for jihadis to get shelter, concealment, aid, comfort, time and space to operate, and various other benefits (including propaganda) from Muslims who themselves actually disapprove of the methods of the jihadis, but not their cause.

But Barnett's theory is a theory of states. If a state is globalising, there's no threat to drive the military's organization or use. PNM gives insufficient guidance to how to approach non-State threats, both the subversive elements of the West (the anti-Enlightenment Left) and the jihadis. And there is a commonality between them. There are reasons why Pat Buchanan (not a Leftists, but a populist neo-Malthusian nonetheless) sounds like Ralph Nader, and why both of them sound like Ayman al Zawahiri in their ideas of how the world works.

But you won't find the answer on a map.

I have been thinking a lot about this, and reading a lot (including Barnett, Tommy Franks' American Soldier, and The Lexus and the Olive Tree (an excellent look at globalization), and I have an operating theory of how the world works, and some ideas of what we need to do in response to the changed world we live in. As soon as I can convince myself that the fact that the way to deal with the world if I am right happens to correspond well to my preferences of how to deal with the world anyway, which were formed during the Cold War, does not mean that I am trying to form a theory which merely fits my preferences, I'll have a longer post on the topic.

I will leave you with this question, though: how do you convince an ideologue that he is wrong?

Posted by Jeff at 11:39 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (7)

October 14, 2004

Systemic Contempt

Stephen Green expresses, better than I myself could, why Democrats have lost my vote for anything until they reform themselves. Please read; it's important.

I still think that we'd be better off as a country if we pulled so much power away from the Federal government that national elections went back to being personally meaningless, but I guess I'd settle for us all at least following the general rules.

Posted by Jeff at 02:59 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

October 13, 2004

Criticise This

The Stryker gets a lot of grief, due to its light armor and weaponry, its size and any number of other factors. Traditional armor guys seem to think that up-armored M113s would do a better job at the role Strykers are designed to fill. The biggest criticism, bar none, has been with the armor protection and survivability of the platform. This kind of incident should put paid to those particular criticisms. While Strykers can be destroyed, like any vehicle, they are a lot more survivable than initially believed.

It seems to me that Stryker does what it is supposed to do: offer reasonably survivable transport and fire support to light units, allowing the military to deploy more firepower faster than it could otherwise. Perhaps it could be improved, but we'd be better off looking at how it could be improved than just throwing up our hands and saying no, no, no.

UPDATE (10/14): StrategyPage has more.

Posted by Jeff at 05:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (5)

October 09, 2004

ABC Joins Newsweek and CBS

and, let's face it, the vast majority of the mainstream media. In what? Deliberately slanting news to influence the election. Ed Murrow is indeed turning over in his grave.

Posted by Jeff at 12:38 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

The Pagan Case for Re-Electing President Bush

Beliefnet is going to have two writers make the Pagan cases for the election of John Kerry and the re-election of George Bush. I would like to address the latter here.

It is difficult to make a generic Pagan case for voting for any candidate for office: Wicca is as different from Greek Reconstructionism (both Pagan religions) as Mormonism is from Wahabbist Islam (both Abrahamic religions). Different Pagan groups differ widely in their beliefs and morality, and thus on what issues are of import to them. For example, while Wiccans are extraordinarily concerned with the environment, this is hardly the case for Greek Reconstructionists. While I believe that George Bush's environmental record is actually quite good, when examined rather than blindly railed against, discussing the issue in detail is only of merit to a subset of Pagans.

There is one issue that is important for all Pagans: separation of church from State. On this issue, I believe that George Bush - who after all once said that he did not think Witchcraft was actually a religion - is easily portrayed in scary tones, but actually not at all dangerous. Why is this? Because President Bush believes in individual Liberty.

If the government has the power to regulate group social interactions (which is a characteristic policy position of collectivists), then the government's position on religion is dangerous: the government can determine which religions are valid and which are not, and can thus restrict religious freedom. But if government does not have the power to regulate group social interactions, then the government's position is irrelevant: the government cannot prohibit your exercise of religion, nor compel you to belong to a particular religion.

While you might think that the fact that the Constitutional language on religion is clear, the government has over the last 75 years taken to ignoring the Constitution regularly. For example, who could interpret "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" to mean that it is OK for Congress to make a law restricting the ability of citizens to advertise in support of or opposition to a particular candidate for public office? Recently, the Supreme Court did just that.

The practical upshot of this is that whomever holds power in the Federal government - and in particular the President and the majority leaders of both Congressional chambers - by and large determines the degree to which individual Liberty is upheld. While the President made a terrible error in signing McCain-Feingold, he has so far steered far away from interfering in religious issues, and is likely to continue to do so.

While Senator Kerry is not particularly a believer in individual Liberties, preferring the betterment of society as a whole, under his "benign" management, it is also true that Senator Kerry is quite unlikely to support any position that would restrict Pagan practices. (Always assuming, of course, that such a position wouldn't confer immediate political benefits to the Senator.)

So if neither President Bush nor Senator Kerry is likely to prohibit, restrict or regulate Pagan practices, and if Pagan beliefs are so divergent as to prohibit a single Pagan view of whose policies would be better, on what basis is a Pagan to choose their candidate for President?

We are not only Pagans, but Americans. As Americans, we are targeted by the jihadis for murder (actually, this is worse for Pagans, because what slim hopes of mercy a "person of the book" might have are nonexistent for Pagans). Who would do a better job of protecting us against the jihadis?

During the Clinton administration, we were attacked in 1993 at the World Trade Center, in 1995 and 1996 in Saudi Arabia, in 1998 at two of our African embassies, and in 2000 in Yemen. Our response to these attacks was sufficiently underwhelming that Osama bin Laden decided America would surrender to al Qaeda if only we were hit hard enough in America. The result of that limp response was 9/11. There has not been a successful terrorist attack in the United States in three years, despite repeated attempts. John Kerry wants to return to the pre-9/11 policy of treating terrorism as a crime, rather than an act of war.

We are not only Pagans, but parents. As parents, we are concerned about the safety of the community; we are concerned about the quality of our children's education and our ability to choose their educational course. Who will do a better job of providing our kids with a safe community and an accountable educational system?

The Democrats want to extend voting rights to felons. How will they secure our communities while coddling criminals? The Democrats are in the pocket of the teachers' unions, and oppose not only school choice and homeschooling, but even such minimal measures as accountable teachers and schools! How then can we trust the Democrats with our children's education? By contrast, the Republicans generally support homeschooling, have been trying very hard to get school choice programs in place, and have been the primary proponents of No Child Left Behind, which (while flawed in some ways) has been the most effective program yet devised to improve public education within its current structure.

We are not only Pagans, but taxpayers. We want to be sure that money we earn, we keep. We want to be sure that the government can do those things only government can do (such as providing for the common defense), and that beyond that government does not act. We want to control our own charitable giving, not to have money forcibly taken from us and given to others without our ability to control or direct the use of that money. Who will do a better job of ensuring that we keep as much of our money as possible?

President Bush has obtained four tax cuts in four years. Senator Kerry promises to raise taxes. President Bush believes that money we earn is ours, and Federal funding should be limited. Senator Kerry believes that the government should have the unilateral right to take as much money from us as it needs, in order to fund an ever-expanding list of handouts, many intended primarily as vote-buying schemes for his Party.

We are not only Pagans, but consumers. We want to be able to get the things we need of the quality we want at the lowest possible price. Who will best ensure that our economy works as efficiently as possible?

Senator Kerry believes in protectionism to aid the favored few. President Bush believes in free trade to benefit everyone. Senator Kerry rails against outsourcing as if jobs were a zero-sum game. President Bush praises economic efficiencies gained by moving unproductive and low-paying work to places where it can be done better and cheaper (and in the process, raising the average wages of the countries to which those jobs are outsourced as well as getting us cheaper goods, so that our money goes further). Senator Kerry thinks we are (or should be?) working in below-minimum wage industrial sweatshops. President Bush promotes the high-paying information economy.

I don't believe that President Bush is perfect, not by a long way. But I do believe that as Pagans, and Americans, and parents, and taxpayers, and consumers, that we will be much better served by four more years of President Bush's careful stewardship, than by four years of John Kerry's active misrule. And I do know that in this election, I will be voting for George Bush.

Posted by Jeff at 12:15 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (24)

October 06, 2004


Well, our time in Chicago is coming to an end, after 9 months. I will dearly miss it. Steph tells why (more here). It's odd: I've never liked cities; I've always preferred the country, even to suburbs. Yet here I am in the heart of one of the largest US cities, and I love it.

There are more green spaces here than in Dallas, and the presence of the lake means a lot of fountains. There are more parks in a smaller area than in Dallas. You can live downtown here: there are restaurants, places to buy things (everything from Sears to specialty boutiques - no Wal Mart or Target stores, though, downtown), universities, museums, a zoo, Wrigley Field and more and more and more - all within a relatively small area, that you can easily get around walking or taking the very safe and convenient public transportation. It's as if all of the good attractions of the DFW area were crammed into an area the size of DFW airport.

And the weather is much, much better.

I'm going to miss Chicago.

Posted by Jeff at 04:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (6)

October 05, 2004


John Hawkins has posted a basic guide to computer maintenance. Since he explicitly refused to consider Mac maintenance in this, I'll do it for him.

1) Get a Mac
2) If you have a problem, and you can't solve it by quitting and restarting apps, reboot
3) In the remarkable situation that you still have a problem, reinstall the OS. Yes, over the existing OS. No, it won't kill your programs; Windows does that, but not Mac. It should take about 20 minutes.
4) Oh, and his tips on spam are fine. Those work for Mac users, too.

Posted by Jeff at 11:42 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

October 02, 2004

Too Much Not Enough Involved

Expat Yank makes a fine point that I've thought about myself from time to time: even if the US were to go isolationist and pull back its forces from around the world, it would not be sufficient to silence America's critics. After all, keep in mind what Bush was criticized for in his foreign policy before 9/11: disengagement from the world. President Bush on assuming office began to pull the US out of the toughest situations abroad, declaiming any "peacekeeping" role, and in particular utterly rejecting the concept of "nation building".

Yet we were not praised for our farsighted wisdom in letting others do what they want, but were instead derided for disengagement. Even now, when we are engaged broadly in the Middle East and (lesser known) Africa and Asia, we are criticised for not being in the middle of the Israeli/Palestinian problem, and for not having already solved every problem in sub-Saharan Africa, and for ignoring any number of problems in the world. And at the same time we are castigated for being too involved in the world, for taking on problems that should be left alone.

It comes down to this, and this alone: anti-Americanism is no more rational than anti-Semitism, and nothing that the US can do or not do will silence our critics. John Kerry can make, should he be elected, any policy changes he wants, and our critics at home and abroad will smile as they stick the knife in, rather than frowning as they stick the knife in. This actually is very liberating: we can take the actions we need to take to defend ourselves, to remake the world, and to help our allies, and the volume and vituperativeness of the criticism will not change. Effectively, we are immune to criticism on foreign policy, so long as we remember that our critics are responding to our existence and our status, not our actions.

Posted by Jeff at 09:02 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)