April 2003 Archives
POWELL SOUNDS RUMSFELDIAN: Here are a couple of quotes by Colin Powell regarding the new French/German/Belgian/Luxembourgian European military operations center:
The project was immediately dismissed by Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state, who called it "some sort of plan to develop some sort of headquarters." He said the four would have done better spending more money on guns, manpower and equipment. ...Just from the tone it sounds like Powell may have been hanging out with Rumsfeld recently.
For Powell, addressing the project in Senate committee testimony in Washington, the need was for more European manpower, a denser structure and better weapons - "not more headquarters."
WHAT THEY AREN'T TELLING US: I think it's important to realize that even as trickles of information are now coming out of Iraq that implicate France (France, France, France), Russia (Russia), Germany, George Galloway, and aliens as aiding and abetting Saddam's thugocracy, there are likely to be pieces of juicy blackmail material that the US government is going to secretly hold on to for now. We're going to air enough filth to put our enemies in their places, and we're going to let them know through channels that there's plenty more where that came from and if they don't want it relvealed then they had better keep their mouths shut and stay out of our way.
That's how the world works, and the fact that our enemies don't know exactly what we've found gives us that much more power over them. I expect that we've got the goods on the various surrounding Arab countries as well, but it will be harder to blackmail the governments of nations that don't have a reasonably free press. Obviously the US government would never release incriminating evidence itself; rather, it would be leaked through media sources as having been "just discovered" so as it give it more credibility among anti-American populations.
Many of the links above are via Instapundit.
I love it when I read an essay that plainly articulates something that I've been thinking about for a while but just haven't found the right words for. Robin Goodfellow writes "we are at a time where a change of political axis is needed and will likely occur within the next few years" and I think he's correct. Both major political parties are losing ground to "independents", most of whom can be categorized as either socialists or libertarians. For the past couple of decades these growing factions of socialists and libertarians largely adhered to the Democrat and Republican parties respectively out of convenience and pragmatism, but it appears that we're nearly to the point where fewer than half of the population actually identifies themselves with one of these parties.
Imagine a game of tug-o-war. The rope is the people, and the Republicans are on one end of the rope and the Democrats are on the other. Between the two of them the middle of the rope isn't free-moving: it's strung through a ring that holds it in place. Now, if that makes sense, try and keep up here. When the parties were aligned with the desires of the people, the rope made a straight line, sliding back and forth through the ring as it it wasn't there. Now that the parties do not represent the ideologies of the population, they are pulling the rope into a V shape. The ring near the center of the rope sits at the point of the V, and the two parties are pulling partially against the ring and partially against themselves. The parties are trying to pull the population into the discussion that they want to have, but a large segment of the population doesn't care about the issues that the parties do anymore, and don't align themselves in the same manner.
I feel like I just wrote a bunch of nonsense. Oh well, it's a cool picture in my head, and if you draw out the force vectors on the rope you might get an idea of what I'm trying to explain with my dumb analogy. The point is that eventually the population will get tired of hearing the debates that the parties want to have, and will dump the parties altogether. For example, both parties are strongly behind the "War on Drugs", but a good portion of the population (maybe not quite a majority) thinks that this so-called war is a sham and a waste of money. Another example is social security... everyone knows it's not sustainable, but neither party has the guts to actually face the problem.
So, what's going to happen? I like Robin's conclusion and basically agree that the parties will re-form into a basically libertarian party and a basically statist party. The real question is, which goes which direction?
I realize this is a controversial question, but this post by The Diablogger has forced it to the front of my mind, and I'm not one to shrink back in fear of the politically correct crowd. There are three possibilities that I can see:
1. Beauty and intelligence are both rare. If, say, 1 in 100 girls are beautiful and 1 in 100 girls are smart, then only 1 in 10,000 girls are both smart and beautiful.
2. Beautiful girls have learned that they can get whatever they want by using their looks; even the ones with the potential to be intelligent have not developed it. They have invested their time cheerleading rather than studying, and reading YM and uh... Cosmo (?) rather than Dostoyevsky and Tolkien. This is, in some ways, a function of our culture which values the appearance of a woman more than her brains; such a trade-off will not benefit an intelligent woman in the long run, however, since by neglecting her brains she is only increasing her attractiveness to unintelligent men. Intelligent men who are attracted to her will lose interest quickly enough.
3. Maybe beautiful and intelligent women are everywhere, and they avoid me. I just threw this in for completeness -- I think we can safely rule it out.
Whatever the reason, brilliant and studly men such as myself have a hard time finding women who are worthy of us.
FANTASY VS. REALITY: Jane Galt writes about one of the main differences between the humanities and the sciences.
What is the difference? I'd argue that it's a mindset. The scientific mindset is about a system of interlocking falsifiable premises that form a falsifiable theory. This system encourages mental habits that go beyond the "critical thinking" facility that liberal arts colleges like to tout. It means knowing your premises, and examining every theory, including your own, for how they conform to your premises, to other theories you have examined and believe to be true, and for possible disconfirming evidence. ...As both a student at UCLA who is surrounded by liberal artists (or whatever liberal arts students are called) and an engineer who works at a major aerospace company, I can attest to the gaping philisophical chasm that exists between these two groups. To liberal artists it's more important to be interesting and provocative than "correct", if they will even conceed that there is such a thing as correctness. To an engineer, nothing is interesting unless it's correct. Liberal artists get emotionally attached to their pet ideas (I won't call them "theories" because they aren't) and can react violently when you disagree with them or *gasp* disprove them entirely. A true engineer, on the other hand, wants to know when they're wrong and should be grateful to whoever points it out.
The humanities simply doesn't have this rigor. In some cases, such as literature, you really can't, although you can certainly be more rigorous than many of the programs devoted to exposing the obvious truth that Shakespeare and company did not have the same racial and gender sensibilities as 21st century Americans, yawn. In other cases, such as sociology and political science, it's possible that you could, but don't yet. That's why discussions in those courses tend to revolve around the speakers' opinions on human nature, interesting and possibly right but very difficult to either prove or falsify.
Via SDB who comments and adds a double-helping of agreement with regards to engineering.
FUNNY BUT DEADLY: A lot of people seem to be laughing it up that Iraq's former information minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf is probably alive and trying to surrender to US forces. Sure, his ridiculous pronouncements were amusing, but people should recognize that by making them he encouraged hundreds or even thousands of Iraqis to their deaths who would have otherwise given up and gone home.
GET RICH SLOW: Clayton Cramer (who I really like) has a series up about how to become wealthy in a realistic fashion. Check it out.
ARTIFICIAL LIFE: Most of the people at the conference I went to over the weekend were biologists, and I felt pretty lonely as the only computer scientist present. It's good to see that programmers will still have plenty to do even once the biologists take over the computer world! Really though, it's amazing to see the confluence of everything with computer science -- that's why I went into CS in the first place. As soon as biologists get these cellular computers working they'll need someone to show them how to best make use of them, and the theory and engineering will fall to those of us in computer science. Not that the biologists couldn't learn it, but I imagine that just as I get glassy-eyed when they talk about restriction enzymes and organelles, they won't have much patience for the complexity theory and distributed algorithms that will be necessary to make these cells perform useful tasks.
As an aside, these biological computers are a fascinating parallel line of research to nanotechnology. Sure, nanotech microbes will be much smaller, but I expect there will be a lot of crossover. Biological machines will have certain advantages over nanotech, and vice versa, and they will be able to play off each other significantly. Most obviously, nanotech will be incredibly useful for designing the biological computers and monitoring their function. Imagine developing a cell piloted by nanotech microbes! The cell could serve as a spaceship for the nanotech crew and provide transportation through the environment and protection from the elements, as well as microscopic tools orders of magnitude larger than the nanotechs themselves. Of course, we could always just build micro-spaceships for our nano-nauts rather than relying on biological components at all. Lots of details to sort out before we'll know what's optimal for a given circumstance.
(Link via GeekPress.)
SARS IN CHINA: Apparently, the Chinese people don't trust their government and are afraid that being quarantined with SARS will amount to a death sentence. So rather than obeying the government's requests and orders that are intended to stop the spread of the virus people are fleeing infected areas so that they don't get grabbed.
China has also ordered hospitals to treat or at least hold potential SARS patients until better-equipped hospitals can admit them. And it has told the poor that they will be given free treatment if they are infected.As direct result of it's oppressive, fascist government China is on the brink of a serious epidemic that could cost thousands or even millions of lives. South-East Asia has a rather high rate of AIDS infection as well, and I still predict that once SARS and HIV/AIDS meet we're going to see some tremendous death tolls.
Many people do not seem to believe that.
"Free medical care for me?" laughed Huang Dongshan, a 28-year-old laborer who left his job as a house painter to head back to his home in Guangxi, 1,000 miles to the south. "No one has ever given me anything for free. If I'm going to die, I want to die in my home. I don't trust the hospitals." ...
"Who knows where they'll put me in Chongqing?" [another man] said. "The hospital could be worse than the jail. I know I should have told them about this in Beijing. But I just didn't believe they would really help me. My life means nothing to them."
Continuing the series (completely unplanned), consumer confidence "leaps" 32% in the wake of the successful Battle for Iraq. Consumer confidence is a really interesting metric that economists use to represent how positive the average person feels about the economy. Why does it matter how people feel? Because people who feel good about their economic future will tend to spend more money that people who are apprehensive or fearful, and consumer spending accounts for more than two thirds of the United States Gross Domestic Product. People who expect to remain employed or are confident of finding a job soon spend money. People who get a raise or expect to get one soon spend money. People who own property or stocks or bonds that are increasing in value spend money. People who own businesses that turn a profit spend money. And the more money people spend the healthier our economy is.
Why does spending help the economy? Here's a primitive example based on bartering. Say that I can craft an excellent knife, but I can't make a wheel to save my life. Likewise, you make top-notch wheels but your knives suck. I can sit around all day making knives, but they aren't worth that much to me because I can make them any time I want, and I've got a bunch of them already. Same with you and your wheels. However, when I give you one of my knives in exchange for one of your wheels we both get richer. The wheel you give to me is worth more to me than the knife I give to you, and vice versa, so both of us gain in wealth. It's very profound when you think about it.
My explanation is somewhat simplistic, but that's the basic idea behind capitalism. Trade is good, and trade increases wealth even if it doesn't increase production because it optimizes ownership and transfers products to those who value them the most. Growning consumer confidence indicates that people are more hopeful for the future and will be willing to trade their money/products to other people because they are sure there's more on the way.
One of the most important components of popular capitalism is freedom of information. Private investors need to have open access to financial information, otherwise they won't be able to make wise use of their money and will end up getting fleeced by the so-called professionals. Government regulation of industry leads to inefficiency, but truthfulness in financial markets must be enforced by legal authority simply due to the fact that private individuals cannot accumulate the information they would need in order for market forces to weed out the deceptive investment firms.
The Republicans are often accused of being too close to business, but this article describes how the Bush SEC has come down on 10 of Wall Street's largest firms, and even fined some executives personally for their deceptive and fraudulent actions.
SARS IN AFRICA: I haven't read much about the possiblity of SARS eventually reaching Africa, but it seems like a virtual certainty. With HIV and AIDS so widespread among the African population, I expect that SARS will have a substantially higher death rate there than it has had even in Asia. Those with weakened immune systems (such as the old, the young, and those with AIDS) are more likely of dying even in Canada, which has a relatively modern medical system.
It must be recognized that the past two decades really have ushered in the New Order of the Ages that is proclaimed on the back of our $1 bills. I like "New World Order" better, but apparently that's not an acceptable translation. Same difference.
Anyway, this article by Gregg Easterbrook in the NY Times claims that the sea, air, land, and space arms races are essentially over, and that every nation has surrendered and resigned itself to American superiority. He makes some persuasive points, including
global military spending, stated in current dollars, peaked in 1985, at $1.3 trillion, and has been declining since, to $840 billion in 2002. That's a drop of almost half a trillion dollars in the amount the world spent each year on arms. Other nations accept that the arms race is over.He concludes his article by arguing that the result of this American superiority may be a strengthened desire among some nations to acquire nuclear weapons -- the only trump card that could possibly discourage American military action.
Frankly, I see it as inevitable that every country will at some point possess nuclear weapons. They're expensive and complicated, of course, but as technology advances the difficulties will grow less and less. This inevitability is the primary reason that it is essential for America and our allies to spread our New political Order to the rest of the world, and to encourage, coerce, and even force other nations into the liberal democratic mold. It is essential to our long-term security, and even to the survival of humanity as a species. With great power comes great responsibility, as we've been told, and the awesome power of nuclear weapons cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of autocratic dictators whose only goals are their own survival.
We can discuss the morality of forcibly changing other nations' governments later, but it seems very simple to me. A dictator like Castro or Mugabe has no more right to rule a nation than I do, and far less right than the people of that nation themselves.
(Article found via Donal Sensing.)
Donald Sensing notes that this week is the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, and points out that widespread property ownership is critical to successful economic and political development. The land purchased from France by the federal government was sold off to private citizens -- an otherwise unheard of practice in a world where property ownership was highly concentrated among royalty and nobility.
For some reason, I had been under the impression that home ownership rates in American had been dropping over the past few decades, but according to the US Census website, I was wrong. In fact, the rate appears to have held pretty steady since 1965, the first year with statistics on the Census site.
This article by Walter Mead describes some of the essential elements of popular capitalism, and why it is necessary that capitialism be popular in order to be successful. In post-industrial-revolution countries, it is inefficient for individuals to own small plots of agricultural land, and so home ownership takes the place of the small farm as the standard unit of ownership. By government encouragement of home ownership through tax breaks and other subsidies, and with the creation of the self-amortising mortgage by banker AP Giannini, it became possible for every American family to buy into the capitalistic dream. The stock market boom of the 1990s and the increased access to financial markets that the internet has brought to the average man have worked to open up another field of ownership that had previously been largely dominated by the wealthy. Far from concentrating wealth as "liberals" often claim, capitalism is the surest way to diffuse wealth through the population by enabling the people to directly own the assets and resources of their nation. The "means of production", if you will.
The dimly lit train speeds through the darker night like a comet hugging the earth, twisting and turning a few feet above the ground. A young boy looks out from the window of his sleep compartment and catches fleeting glimpses of the ethereal terrain. No, he's not really a boy anymore - he's a man, even though he doesn't know it. The man doesn't know where he is, all he is sure of is from looking at his watch time is passing, and every tree-shaped wraith and ghostly town he leaves behind brings him that much closer to home.
The phantom tendrils of overheard conversation and mirth occasionally penetrate his compartment, but they can't break into his mind or tear his forehead away from the cold glass of the window. His eyes dart back and forth, searching for some landmark, some familiarity, some lost memory to drag his soul back to the home his body is hurtling towards. He's been away for a long time, and every curve of the track reveals another alien landscape. He's been here before, but it was all so different then.
The man presses the tips of his fingers against the window and taps on the glass as he thinks. His parents will be surprised to see him. He imagines they were shocked to wake up and find him gone, and so they'll certainly be surprised to see him back. And happy, he hopes. His eyes fill with tears when he thinks of what he did to his family and how much they must have worried when he disappeared. Especially his poor sister - she must have cried for days. The man rubs his face; his sister's birthday is only two weeks away, and he will make it up to her somehow.
His dad won't say much, but his mom will alternately bawl and scream, once she comes to her senses. He has it coming, he knows it, and he will endure whatever is necessary to make things right. He knows his dad will forgive him, maybe even be proud of him, but he won't say much. The old man will smile and embrace him and then stand back and let mom and sister have at him.
The man stares out the window, afraid to close his eyes and see the other faces that float before his mind's eye. His friends will have forgotten him by now, even those with names he can attach to faces. He had thought of his family continuously while he was gone; most of those friends had never crossed his mind, but their ghosts were rising from the graveyard to haunt him now. No matter, they will accept him back or they won't, he doesn't need anything from them. Nothing he has seen or done could replace his father's furrowed brow, his mother's soft voice, or his sister's mischievous grin, but the friends from his past seem like characters from an old movie. He has fond memories of scenes and settings, but perhaps that story is over and doesn't need a sequel.
There's the Comedian, he thinks. There's the Athlete, the Beauty, the Student, the Wallflower, the Instigator, the Depressed, the Talker, the Musician? the list goes on and on, and he wonders what he is when all of them closed their eyes and reminisce. He could be the Wanderer, or the Fool; either way, he has walked the earth and is finally coming back to where he started. Maybe his wandering is over; maybe his foolishness is over, too.
As the sun begins to rise outside, the train reverts to its common appearance, and the specters that had danced just out of reach become buildings, light poles, cars? substantial and vaguely familiar. The orange light spreads quickly and banishes the real world back from whence it came, back into the recesses of the man's mind. He checks his watch again. He is going home.
HOME AGAIN: Just got home. The conference was cool. I got to meet a lot of people and even did some hiking; there's nothing more entertaining than hiking through the forest with a dozen biologists who can answer all my questions about everything I see. I think I learned more about trees and plants and small forest animals this afternoon than I had ever thought about, and it was pretty neat. I'm sleepy, and it's time for bed.
One often hears the sentiment from computermen that any philosophers worth their salt have long since transferred to computer science departments.Well, I've thought it, but I haven't often heard it. Check out this cite from Marvin Minsky:
I think that Computer Science is the most important thing that?s happened since the invention of writing. Fifty years ago, in the 1950s, human thinkers learned for the first time how to describe complicated machines. We invented something called computer programming language, and for the first time people had a way to describe complicated processes and systems, systems made of thousands of little parts all connected together: networks. Before 1950 there was no language to discuss this, no way for two people to exchange ideas about complicated machines. Why is that important to understand? Because that?s what we are. Computer Science is important, but that importance has nothing to do with computers. Computer Science is a new philosophy about complicated processes, about life, about artificial life and natural life, about artificial intelligence and natural intelligence. It can help us understand our brain. It can help us understand how we learn and what knowledge is.Holy crap.
Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, and other philosophers didn?t know that you need an operating system, the part of the brain that does all of the housework for the other parts, to use knowledge. So all philosophy, I think, is stupid. It was very good to try to make philosophy. Those people tried to make theories of thinking, theories of knowledge, theories of ethics, and theories of art, but they were like babies because they had no words to describe the processes or the data. How does one part of the brain read the processes in another part of the brain and use them to solve a problem? No one knows, and before 1960 no one asked. In a computer the data is alive. If you read philosophy you will find that they were very smart people. But they had no idea of the possibilities of how thinking might work. So I advise all students to read some philosophy and with great sympathy, not to understand what the philosopher said, but to feel compassionate and say, Think of those poor people years ago who tried so hard to cook without ingredients, who tried to build a house without wood and nails, who tried to build a car without steel, rubber or gasoline.? So look at philosophy with sympathy, but don?t look for knowledge. There is none.
GONE CONFERENCIN': I'm leaving this afternoon for an Artificial Life conference-type-thingy and I won't be back until Saturday night. It's being held at the James Reserve out near "Idyllwild, Californiia" as the website indicates. Excellent. I hope "Californiia" isn't California's evil clone or something (if you get that joke, that's sad) and I hope it doesn't take too long to get there during Friday traffic.
Everyone going is presenting something, which implies that I will be presenting something too. Since I didn't know I was going to the conference until this past Tuesday, I haven't had much time to prepare. Ergo, I will be presenting a bit of background on my PhD dissertation and trying not to look too ignorent [sic]. That is all, have a nice day.
BEST OF THE BEST OF THE WEB TODAY: Today's Best of the Web Today is even better than usual. I can't resist copying a few of the items....
Say It Ain't So, JoeGood stuff. I've got to stay on top of those Googlers; I usually notice their little easter eggs myself.
Antiwar Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, who last month unburdened himself of the view that "if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this," now says he's likely to endorse a pro-war Jew, Sen. Joe Lieberman, for president, reports Washington Jewish Week. We guess if pro-war Jews run everything anyway, one of them might as well be president.
They Know What's Good for You
Former Enron adviser Paul Krugman is frustrated by democracy. "If American families knew what was good for them, then most of them--all but a small, affluent minority--would cheerfully give up their tax cuts in return for a guarantee that health care would be there when needed," he opines in today's New York Times.
Striking a similar tone, "a former head of the National Council of Churches, the Rev. M. William Howard Jr. of Newark, N.J., explained that church leaders have 'an informed' and 'critical assessment' of the war and the Bush administration's justifications that church laity, relying on popular media, lacks," according to columnist Mark O'Keefe.
Google.com has a cute graphic up today on its homepage. The two o's in its logo have been replaced by a double-helix. If you roll your mouse over the logo, this text pops up: "Celebrating DNA's 50th Anniversary."
Huh? Even creationists would agree DNA has been around for at least 6,000 years.
POST-WAR IRAQ: The brilliant Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gives an interview to the AP. On moving towards local elections:
Rumsfeld: What we want to do is to first assure that there’s a relatively permissive environment, a secure environment. ... And increasingly a number of humanitarian people who are only allowed to do emergency situations are saying well we are leaving because there was not an emergency. ... In some cases they are actually forming town councils and beginning that process.Town councils are indeed one of the most fundamental units of government, and it's a good start. The fact that emergency aid organizations are leaving is interesting, and something I hadn't read elsewhere. On whether or not Iraq's new government will be a theocracy:
Rumsfeld: ... And there'll be some sort of a representative government that will evolve and a non-dictatorial, a non-repressive government. And if you are suggesting how would we feel about an Iranian type government, with a few clerics running everything in the country. The answer is, that ain't gonna happen, I just don't see how that’s going to happen.And the money quote, regarding future US military presence:
Rumsfeld: I don't anticipate or not anticipate. It seems to me that one would hope that Iraq would not invest in a military, in a way that distracted from the needs of the Iraqi people. They have a neighbor that they've been at war with. Iran. And, so there is that issue and the question is, what is best for Iraq and what do the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government that eventually all decides is in their best interest. It may be that they would like to have a security relationship with other countries that would enable them to not make those massive investments and still feel that they were in a relatively secure situation, relative to their neighbors. It may be that that's not the case and it's all so far in the future that it's not something.That's a yes. Good thing, too.
Q: And what would you say to the weapons inspectors, in fact, Hans Blix said recently that the U.S. side of demonstration of this was pathetic in terms of finding
Rumsfeld: The U.S. what?
Q: That in terms of the record of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was pathetic and he thought the weapons inspectors should
Rumsfeld: Is it that his record or, was pathetic or U.N.'s record?
Q: The U.S. presentation, of the case that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Rumsfeld: I haven’t read what he said.
EDUMACATION: My mom is on the school board for the area in which I live, and so I've taken a keener interest in education-related issues recently. Joanne Jacobs has a blog up that discusses many of the problems facing public education, and it makes for a sobering read. Personally, I'm not convinced that the government has any business being involved in education at all (at least not the federal government), and I think that many of the problems with public education arise from the word public.
RADICAL LIFE EXTENSION: How would civilization change if a sudden technological breakthrough made it possible for everyone alive today to continue living for the forseeable future, barring unnatural deaths? For example, if some treatment extended our average life-span to 1000 years, it would take quite a while for scientists to even determine that since no one would die of natural causes until hundreds of years from now. Ok, so, what effect would it have?
Wealth would concentrate much more powerfully since people would just keep accumulating money long after they would have otherwise died. I expect that this would make property and housing more expensive, and harder for young people to afford. Unless people started having far fewer children, the population would increase dramatically very quickly. People would need to continue working to support themselves indefinitely, and it would be much more difficult to retire. It would be difficult for young people to get jobs because the old people would just keep theirs, but they would probably have to accept lower pay as the pool of experienced non-retired people continued to grow. Creative individuals such as writers and scientists would be able to produce many more works of greater maturity than might otherwise have been possible. Politics would change as well, since offices that aren't term-limited by law would essentially be permanently held by a few select people; most likely new term-limit laws would be enacted. The dynamic of generation gaps would change, depending on how much biological basis there is for the apparent fact that most adults get stuck in a cultural rut in their twenties that they never emerge from. This would lead to stable markets for all eras of music and other forms of entertainment.
Any other ideas? I'm sure there are a ton of things I haven't even considered. Maybe I'll write more on it later, depending on what (if anything) that people write in the comments.
I WANT PATIENCE, AND I WANT IT NOW!: I think that many people underestimate the importance of patience. In my population genetics class today we discussed some equations (the arithmatic for which my professor worked out in painful detail) that describe how beneficial alleles gradually take over within a population of animals. The rate that the frequency of the beneficial allele increases depends on a few factors, one of which is exactly how beneficial the allele is for the organism in question; the more beneficial it is, the more quickly the allele spreads. The interesting result however, which many students apparently couldn't grasp, is that no matter how slight a benefit the allele grants to its bearers and how slowly it is passed on, given enough time a beneficial allele will spread to 100% of the population. It's just a matter of time. If having blue eyes makes a person 0.000000001% more likely to find a mate, eventually everyone will have blue eyes.
This should be intuitive for anyone who has taken calculus. The limit of ((x^2)/x) as x goes to infinity is infinity. The limit of ((x^1.000000001)/x) as x goes to infinity is also infinity. So what? Well, let's take an example without the math. It took me an hour to get to work from school this afternoon (gotta love the 405). That's a long time, and although my patience is at its weakest when dealing with traffic I was never afraid that I wouldn't eventually get to work. Why? Because I was headed in the right direction, and my average speed was greater than zero. I would have to get to work eventually, it was just a matter of time.
There are a lot of things I am waiting for, some of which I can be rather impatient about at times. I'm tired of working on my PhD; I've put a lot of time into it, but it's hard to be motivated because even if I put four hours a night in it's hard to see progress. The thing I have to remember is that as long as I'm pointed in the right direction, and my speed is greater than zero, eventually I'll finish. That's the key to patience I think: plodding along. As long as some infinitesimal advance can be made every day, I'll reach my goal eventually.
No matter what Zeno says.
ESCAPE FROM NK: The title is intended to evoke "Escape from L.A." but whatever. I do the best I can with what I've got. Anyway, StrategyPage has a cool little story about the US and other nations smuggling North Koreans out of Kim Jong Il's hell-hole. It's job was called Operation Weasel, ironically enough. Since the site doesn't have permalinks, let me just quote it:
April 24, 2003: An Australian paper reported that eleven nations have allowed for their consulates to be used to hustle 20 North Korea military and scientific officials out of North Korea, into China and then to the United States or South Korea. Called Operation Weasel, it's main intent was to get past Chinese reluctance to encourage North Koreans to illegally cross the border into China. Some 300,000 North Koreans have already done that, and China considers these refugees a potential economic or military problem. Operation Weasel obtained the cooperation of the tiny, bankrupt, Pacific nation of Nauru, which agreed to allow New Zealand and American officials to set up a Nauru embassy in China and use this embassy, and diplomatic immunity of Nauru diplomats, to get the North Korean defectors out of China. The defectors have provided many more details of North Koreans nuclear and chemical weapons programs. An Australian newspaper figured out the scheme and published a story about it. But the nations involved have all denied the story, or most of it, anyway.The Australian paper mentioned appears to be the Weekly Australian, but I can't find the article or a website for the paper. However, here is an article that mentions the first article.
What will become of environmentalism in the future? Say we go to Mars and find that there really isn't any life there. Will the greens complain that we're disrupting the planet by building a colony on the empty red sand? Will they whine when we terraform that dead world and attempt to remake it in earth's image? And let's say we're successful in doing so... in fact, we colonize a dozen or so worlds in the next century or two. Will the greens then concede that earth itself has become expendable? There won't really be much need to conserve rainforests on earth if we plant one giant rainforest on some other planet, will there? Oh sure, it might look pretty to keep some parks around the old home planet, but it won't be essential will it? Accumulating trash won't be a problem anymore either once we can just toss it into the sun cheaply and efficiently, or convert it to nuclear power using the Mr. Fusion that satisfies all our energy needs.
One of the main problems I have with environmentalism is that I think it's just a charade. Environmentalists are intellectually dishonest. They proclaim doom and gloom, but their real agenda isn't to protect the earth, it's to hinder humanity. As Lileks writes today, the assertion that "IF EVERYONE LIVED LIKE YOU, WE WOULD NEED 6.9 PLANETS" makes me think hey, we'd better get started and find some more planets, so that all the poor, oppressed people in the world can live like me! The environmentalists, on the other hand, think that the solution is that I should start living like all the poor, oppressed people.
The environmentalist movement is the intellectual descendent of the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. "The earth revolves around the sun?! Nonsense!" They routinely ignore and suppress the vast store of scientific knowledge that undermines their ideological dogma, and they villify anyone who stands up to them. This is unfortunate, because it's important to use our resources and environment responsibly and it's a shame that this message is tainted by the charlatans that hide behind it.
I BELIEVE!: I try to read The Diablogger every day, but I don't generally check out the myriad of links that he scatters throughout his posts. On a whim, I decided to follow a link saying that our true reasons for invading Iraq are "best left as a mystery". That link took me to this article on a site named Exopolitics -- "dedicated to producing high quality research papers that focus on the political implications of what an overwhelming amount of evidence conclusively points to as an Extraterrestrial presence on Earth that is known by clandestine government organizations who keep official knowledge of this presence secret from the general public and elected political officials."
This paper examines how the need to gain unfettered access to Iraq's extraterrestrial (ET) heritage has played a critical role in influencing US foreign policy in the Persian Gulf region ever since the Carter administration. The paper analyses how clandestine organizations based in the US, Europe and Soviet Union/Russia have historically maneuvered amongst themselves to gain the most strategic advantage in having access to and exploiting ET technology hidden in Iraq. The paper argues that the need for a diplomatic solution to the recent international crisis over Iraq, resulted from the desire of clandestine groups in Europe and Russia to restrict access to these sites by US organizations that have grown rapidly in power and displayed an imperialistic tendency that leads to much anxiety among their European counterparts.Anyway, if my friend ever sets up some script hosting for me I'll put up my random conspiracy generator. I'll put Exopolitics out of business!
REPUBLIC OR BUREAUCRACY PART 2: My network proxy at work won't let me send long posts to Blogger... so here is the second part of a two-parter:
Secretary of State Powell, on the other hand, has taken to diplomacy like a pig to uh, mud, if you'll excuse the analogy. Powell is not a pig, but diplomacy is a rather uh, muddy business, and the State Department is one of the most liberal bureaucracies in the government. They are pretty keen on the transnational progressivism that animates much of European diplomacy, and they were the motivating force behind the recent UN debacle. Whether or not Powell approved of the approach we took with the UN, I have a feeling that it wasn't directly in line with what Bush wanted to do, but that he simply didn't have any choice. The bureaucracy is the only tool at Bush’s disposal, and if he pushed them too hard or publicly denounced their failures/disobedience he would completely undermine himself and turn the State Department against him permanently. Because of the rules and regulations governing the bureaucracy he couldn't simply replace the insubordinate officials. He has to deal with them.
So now we are faced with military victory in Iraq after diplomatic defeat in the UN, and the fear of many conservatives is that the State Department will lead us to more diplomatic defeat by not aggressively pushing Bush's foreign policy agenda in the aftermath of the battle. The War on Terror isn't over yet, and in order for us to take full advantage of this victory we need to stay strong diplomatically and not give away the credibility and authority that we have earned on the battlefield. Our diplomatic enemies must be punished diplomatically, just as our military enemies were punished militarily. Otherwise, we will have won the Battle for Iraq but we will never win the War.
REPUBLIC OR BUREAUCRACY PART 1: My network proxy at work won't let me send long posts to Blogger... so here is a two-parter:
One of the open secrets of the United States government is that the unelected officials in the federal bureaucracy wield a tremendous amount of power, which they don't always use to enforce the policies of the President and his cabinet. The President is the CEO of the vast majority of the federal government (excepting only the court systems and the various Congressional staff offices), but Presidents come and go every four or eight years -- bureaucrats can hold their offices for decades, and are often impossible to fire regardless of performance. The bureaucracy is also predominantly liberal, for various reasons that I won't get into here.
Because the bureaucracy is ideologically oriented and largely independent of the President (in function, if not technically), it can often be difficult for a President to get these officials to enact the policies that he wants. Oh, they'll give lip service to the President's agenda, but I think we all know exactly how enthusiastically they will implement programs and reforms that go against their own ideological bent. The cabinet secretaries are supposed to supervise the bureaucracy and try to keep everyone in line, but only the top-most levels are appointed by the President and the rest of the management is made up of irremovable public bureaucrats that may or may not follow the President's orders once their supervisor leaves the room.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has made quite a few enemies in the military because of various reforms that he has been trying to push through. The military is generally conservative and likes President Bush, but the reforms that Rumsfeld has been advocating (such as eliminating many military support jobs and replacing them with civilian contractors) aren't at all popular with the old school generals. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld has been rocking the boat and making some progress with the changes that the President wants.
Eugene Volokh asks, "So what's the problem with lesbianism?" One of his points is that
4. This leads us to the Bible. The Bible does, it seems to me, contain text that prohibits male homosexuality -- but I haven't seen any verses that prohibit lesbianism. I may well be missing something; if there are verses that touch on this, please let me know. But at this point, I really don't see any specifically scriptural objection to lesbianism.Without getting further into the discussion, let me point out Romans chapter 1, particularly verses 24 through 27:
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.Ok, to get slightly further into the dicsussion, I don't think it's the government's place to enforce morality. Is homosexuality a sin? Yes. But so is lying, and I don't think there ought to be a law against lying. If you are just looking for an excuse to beat up on Christians, then disapproval of homosexuality is the cause du jour; fine. But if you really want to understand what the Bible says about mankind, I wouldn't focus on this one issue. Everyone is a sinner, and everyone is saved by God's love, mercy, and grace.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
ELECTION 2004: Sure it's 18 months away, but a lot can happen in 18 months right? If you're interested in the next federal elections, check out The New Republic's Election 2004 page.
BOUGHT AND SOLD: I imagine that most everyone has read about George Galloway, the British Minister to Parliment (from the Labour party) who was basically bought by Saddam Hussein and paid more than US$500,000 a year to try and prevent the overthrow of the Iraqi regime. Galloway was one of the most militant anti-war politicians in England (militant anti-war, ha), and it's now pretty much conclusively revealed that he held his positions not purely out of some strange morality, but rather because of these huge bribes. Since most of my readers are probably American, think of what would happen if it was shown that a Republican Representative or Senator had taken money from Saddam; this debacle is of about the same level of magnitude within Britain's political system.
Asked to explain the document, he said yesterday: "Maybe it is the product of the same forgers who forged so many other things in this whole Iraq picture. Maybe The Daily Telegraph forged it. Who knows?"Fortunately for Galloway, Britain has just abolished their last capital offense: treason.
When the letter from the head of the Iraqi intelligence service was read to him, he said: "The truth is I have never met, to the best of my knowledge, any member of Iraqi intelligence. I have never in my life seen a barrel of oil, let alone owned, bought or sold one."
THE ACTS 2 CHURCH: In Acts 2:42-47 we see an awesome picture of what the early church in Jersalem was like, right after the coming of the Holy Spirit. The church we are shown looks ideal, and I think that it typifies what Heaven is like in certain aspects. However, I don't think it's appropriate to take this picture we're given and extrapolate from it a "model" to recreate in modern churches. Why not?
It's important to realize the spiritual and cultural work that God was doing in the lives of those early Christians. The church had exploded from 120 of Jesus' closest disciples to over 3,000 new believers virtually over night. The New Testement had not yet been revealed, and the only source of teaching was the apostles who could tell new Christians what Jesus was all about and what God intended for them to do. Because of this (as well as the looming persecution by both Jewish and Roman authorities), the early church in Jerusalem was extremely tight by necessity, and essentially socialistic in nature and governed directly by the apostles. Everyone "gave to anyone as he had need" because many of these new believers were visiting Jews from foreign lands. They met together every day because, basically, they were on the ultimate "camp high". God was doing extraordinary things among them, new believers were being added daily, and it would have been impossible for all of this to occur if they had attempted to maintain their previous lifestyles.
Is this a model for how modern churches should function? In some ways, yes -- the Spirit of love and devotion that underlies the actions of the early church should still be the foundation of our churches today. However, the manifestation of that Spirit will be different. We have the teachings of Jesus and the apostles written down for us to study wherever we may go; indeed we should be in God's Word daily, but we don't need to meet at church daily to do so. We should take care of the needs of other believers, but it would be impractical and unsustainable for church members to all sell everything they possess -- this would simply lead to more need in the long run.
Eventually, the early church in Jerusalem was broken apart as persecution drove wave after wave of Christians out of the city and out of Israel altogether. This persecution was all a part of God's plan, as there was no way for a church that stayed in Jerusalem to "go to all the world" and preach the gospel. The example we are shown in Acts 2 tells us much about the Spirit with which a church should function, but if we are to fulfill the purposes that God has called us to we cannot attempt to recreate the exact same structure.
JESUS THE JEW: Donald Sensing writes a fascinating article about how Jesus fit into the cultural and religious landscape of first century Israel. Lots of historical information, and an analysis of Christianity's early structure and how it was influenced by earlier Greek and Roman political conquest of the Jewish people.
TIMING, RELEVANCE, ABSURDITY 3: Just to close down the topic, here is a letter written by three law professors at UCLA regarding the recent UCLA Faculty Senate resolution that decried the liberation of Iraq. It starts:
We believe the liberation of Iraq was just and necessary. But last week, we told President Bush that we deplored the war.There's more at InstaPundit and The Volokh Conspiracy.
Was it flagrantly inconsistent for us to make this statement, so contradictory to what we believe? You bet.
Why did we do it?
We were mugged.
We were mugged by about 200 of our faculty colleagues at UCLA. These colleagues condemn the liberation of Iraq and wanted to say so publicly. But they were not content to speak out in their own names, as they had every right to do. Instead, they insisted on speaking in our names — and in the names of the more than 3,000 people on the UCLA faculty.
Mean Mr. Mustard up at Berkeley has some thoughts on SDB's post about potential shifts in opinion among the college student demographic. Mr. Mustard is skeptical, based on his observations at Berkeley, but I think he fails to take into account the high turnover rate of "college students". Four years from now the demographic will contain an entirely new set of people; so while I do believe that the students he knows are unlikely to see the light and become capitalists overnight, that doesn't matter since they won't be "college students" in a few years.
I posted the following to the comments section:
I think that, as Toxic pointed out, opinion among college students will change over the next few years precisely because those who are lost-cause college students now won't be in college anymore soon enough. The members of the demographic turn over so quickly that the major opinions held by "college students" can easily change drastically.
I can't really predict whether or not this *will* happen, but it's certainly possible. I know a good many high school students, and most of them are totally psyched about the War on Terror. I don't know if that's a good perspective to have or not, but lots of them love the reality of our military power and the fact that we can use it for good around the world.
So, we'll see. Who knows what effects will be seen here in California (much less in Berkeley) but I wouldn't be surprised to see opinions shift among college students over the next few years.
It's late, so maybe that's why I'm having strange thoughts. I don't understand how anyone can claim ownership of any piece of intellectual property that exists in digital form. Once something (say, a song) is stored digitally, it is represented by a long series of 1s and 0s -- the song is essentially translated into a really big number. Depending on the format used for storing the song (MP3, WAV, &c.), the number that represents the song will be different. So does the owner of that song also own the number that represents that song? And if so, the number generated by what storage scheme? All of them?
That's a big problem because any number can be changed to any other number using the appropriate math. For instance, I could easily write a program that takes in the number that represents a particular song and then adds 1 to that number. Does the owner of the song own that number too? I could write a music program that takes this new number, subtracts 1, and then plays the song... so in a sense I simply created a new storage format for music. Adding and subtracting 1 is simple, but there are literally an infinite number of possible storage formats that haven't been invented yet, and they span every single number. Any number, when combined with the right algorithm, can be used to generate any song. So where is the copyright infringement? Is the song stored in the long binary number, or in the algorithm that decodes it? I could write another piece of software that no matter what file you put into it always plays the same song. Is every single file in existance now in violation of that song's copyright?
Similarly, since every song file is just a really long number, what happens if I'm working on some complex mathematics and my answer turns out to be the exact number that represents some song in MP3 format? Does the owner of the song now own my mathematical formulas that just happened to generate their song? If they don't, then I can write a piece of software that takes my formulas as input and plays their song as output. Basically, the song would be stored in the math, and I would have invented a new storage format. It would be trivial to generate formulas that output the number for any song you want.
In the end, it's impossible to own numbers. Since numbers are used to represent everything stored digitally, it seems impossible to me that copyright as we now know it can continue to exist. Add to this other thorny issues such as digital child pornography ("that's not a picture, officer, that's just a really long number I got from my math equations") and decryption warrants and I think we're just on the tip of dealing with the changes that the digital revolution will force upon our civilization.
THE PRICE OF PEACE: Via Clayton Cramer, here's an MSNBC article that brutally describes the cost that the Iraqi people bore for the "peace" that kept Saddam Hussein in power. There are hundreds of such articles making their way around the world right now, and the so-called "peace movement" should be miserable now that the truth of what they were defending is known.
All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. And that's exactly what the "peace movement" was advocating. Don't let anyone forget it or try to rewrite history.
PRESIDENT BUSH IS A CHRISTIAN: The fact that President Bush is a born-again Christian seems to bother a lot of people. Robert Bartley discusses why. Naturally, I think that the main problem that some people have with Bush's religion is that it doesn't match their own secular humanism. American presidents have all given lip-service to Christianity, but the liberal left thinks that Bush actually believes what he says, and that scares them to death.
POST-WAR IRAQ: I've said before that establishing permanent military bases in Iraq should be one of our top goals now that the battle for the country is over. However, some guy named Rumsfeld seems to think otherwise. Apparently, he believes that "Well, we've got all kinds of options and opportunities in that part of the world to locate forces. It's not like we need a new place."
Yeah, well what does he know? He didn't promise that it won't happen, he just says that it seems unlikely. Personally, I think it would be a good idea and I still think it's going to happen.
I asked SDB about this, and he speculates that Rumsfeld is playing dumb to avoid "freaking out" the Qataris. Okey dokey, it's possible. Rumsfeld's language was pretty strong though, even though he didn't rule out the possibility of American bases in Iraq altogether.
PETS: It appears that other bloggers like to post pictures of their dogs/cats/pets online. Naturally, each and every one of them is the best dog/cat/pet ever. Bah. Hey, don't get me wrong, I like animals -- to eat! Ha! But seriously, I don't get it. Why would anyone want to share their living space with an animal? I never even liked having human roommates.
You may think I just feel this way because I've never had a pet, but you're wrong. I have had several pets. Let's see... I had a bird for a while when I was a kid, and it shed feathers all over the place and crapped on everything. It sucked. One day it mysteriously disappeared, and I never even gave it a second thought. Actually, I think I was glad it was gone. More recently, I gave the whole pet thing another shot, and I bought two kittens. They slept all day when I wanted to play with them, and then tore up the house like banshees all night when I wanted to sleep. I tried to lay in bed and ignore the huge sounds of metal crashing and furniture tumbling, but it was impossible. When I would get up to check on what had been knocked over, I couldn't find anything out of place. There's no way two little kittens could make that much noise without destroying something, I'm sure of it, but I could never prove anything.
Unfortunately, after six weeks or so I was forced by circumstance to stick the bestest kittens ever in a sack and bury them in the yard. Now hold on, don't get too upset. No one has seen them in a long time, so it's possible they're still alive. Maybe one of them ate the other to survive, who knows; they did like to watch reality TV during their short stay with me. In any event, until someone observes them they're in a superposition of dead/alive states, so my belief that they're alive is just as valid as whatever you might happen to believe.
Hopefully I won't have to live with another person again until I get married, and my next pets will be human children. I've been told that it's not appropriate to refer to children as "pets", but it's the same general idea, right? Except that when kids get to be 8 or 9 they can get a job at the Nike factory and start earning their keep. Try that with any other kind of pet, it won't work. Except maybe with monkeys.
AMERICA INVADES JAPAN!: Well, not really, but my brother invades Japan anyway. He's put up a blog to record details of his excursion, and there's lots of pictures. Keen!
GERMANY: It's been said that the Germans have never met a fascist dictator they didn't like, and it appears to be true. The quote near the end of the article is priceless:
Last night, a spokesman for the German government said it was "well known" that it had been offered lucrative contracts by Baghdad providing it maintained an anti-Iraq war stance. "Iraq made these kinds of promises before the war and praised Germany for its position," he said.I just watched GlenGarry Glen Ross, and although it's a great movie it put me in a bad mood. It's strangely appropriate for me to now read rather conclusive proof that one of our "close allies" has stabbed us in the back. Bah, whatever. SDB has more if you've got the stomach for it. Myself, I'm going to bed.
One of my friends sent me a link to Settlers3D, a 3D version of the board game Settlers of Catan. This is one of the best mid-complexity board games ever created, and I highly recommend checking it out. This 3D version doesn't let you play against a computer opponent, but Java Settlers does. You can find some rules there too. If anyone wants to play a network game with me, shoot me an email. My address can be found on the left side of the blog.
IT TOLLS FOR THEE: SDB analyzes the French situation and tolls the bell once more. The demise of Europe as a world power and the ascension of the East will probably be the tidal shift of the 21st century.
A-10 THUNDERBOLT: I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack plane. It's an awesome weapon. Strategy Page has a sequence of photos up that show a Thunderbolt (also known as a Warthawg) that got shot pretty bad during a sortie in Iraq, but still managed to make it back to base. The picture of the pilot at the end is priceless.
HE WHO DARES, WINS: How many ex-presidents can say that they successfully prosecuted two foreign wars while at the same time presiding over a recovering economy? I'm not a historian, but I play one on TV, and I'd venture to say "none". If circumstances cooperate, W could go down as one of the most accomplished American presidents in history, and the question is, why? Shortly after 9/11, Bill Clinton lamented that the terrible attacks didn't occur during his watch and that he had missed out on a great opportunity for historical significance. Aside from the baseness of this perspective, I wonder if it's even true. Clinton had opportunity enough to confront evil (what with the first attack on the WTC, the embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, and more) and yet he chose not to.
The difference between Clinton's response to terrorism and Bush 43's is partially related to ideology -- but only partly. The Democrats always wail and moan when the character of their politicians is called into question, but I believe that a difference in character is at the true root of the difference in action between these two presidents. Whereas Clinton appears to have been primarily concerned with building a legacy for himself and securing the political fortunes of his party, Bush has been willing to risk both of these considerations in order to protect the United States and to advance the cause of freedom. It is easy for a cynic to look at the current situation and say that the results of Bush's actions clearly benefit both his legacy and his party, but 18 months ago it was not at all obvious how this War on Terror would unfold, or what it's conclusion would be. Even now the war is not over, but with two important battles behind us the end is taking shape, and looks ever more certain with every passing day.
But our present was a not a foregone conclusion immediately after 9/11, as the Democrats can attest to. Theirs were the loudest voices decrying the risks of the course of action that our President had set us upon, and although their fears did not come to pass it was by no means certain that we would prevail as decisively as we have to this point. Nevertheless, W was willing to risk his political future, his reputation, and the credibility of his ideology because he saw that the cost of inaction was higher than the value of these ephemeral concerns. He took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he holds that oath in higher esteem than he does his own reputation. That truth is something that few of our former presidents can lay claim to.
The Alaska Permanent Fund each year pays a dividend of 20 percent of the state’s oil profits to every citizen — $1,540 per person in 2002. The rest of the money is invested, to provide a permanent income when oil revenues decline. Alaskans regard this as personal wealth; in 1999, 83 percent of Alaska voters rejected a proposal to use Permanent Fund revenues for state government spending. A similar fund could be created for Iraqis. It could provide a payment of something like $1,000 a year —meaningful in a country where Umm Qasr dockworkers make $30 a month.It's an interesting idea. Obviously, if every Iraqi has an extra $1000 per year in income it will cause dramatic inflation and will not directly quadruple their buying power. Still, the idea has merit. In order for it to work properly, and for the distributed ownership to actually foster capitalism, it is essential that each person be able to sell or rent out their share of the oil. Private corporations must arise to manage and develop the oil deposits, and these duties must not be left to the government. Each individual Iraqi should be able to decide who controls and administrates his share of the oil.
Finally, I'm not sure if it's wise to give parents control over their kids' share of the oil. It might be more beneficial to hold each child's oil money in trust until they reach adulthood. There are a lot of details to be worked out, obviously.
PEOPLE FOR THE EATING OF TASTY ANIMALS: Do I ever link to anything other than the Volokh Conspiracy? Well, sometimes. But Eugene posts this little poem:
If meat is murder,and I have to disagree. No self-respecting animal-rights lefty would conceed that taking an egg (fertilized or not) constitutes kidnapping, since eggs are only potential chickens and not actual chickens. Yet. Or something.
then chicken is manslaughter,
eggs are kidnapping,
and milk is sexual harassment.
TIMING, RELEVANCE, ABSURDITY 2: Following up on this earlier post, I did email Prof. Holczer and ask him about the accuracy of the quote in the Daily Bruin in which he said "The few academic senates in the country are the only organizations who should take a stand on human morals. It's more than our right, it's our obligation." He told me that the quote is basically accurate, but taken out of context, and that he has had to deal with a lot of complaints about it. He asked me not to post any of the emails we exchanged, and so I won't.
I apologized to him for my personal attack on him in my last post. I wrote "Blind to his lack of credentials, physics professor Karoly Holczer said..." and that was inappropriate. I was rather upset at the time, but there was no need to be snide in that manner. I have not changed my position on the resolution itself, and I think it is wrong for the faculty of UCLA to trade on the university's name and reputation to further their own political agenda. I think I'm honest enough that I would have objected to the resolution even if I had approved of its contents, but we may never know that. By passing this resolution, the faculty as a whole has officially positioned themselves in political opposition to every member of the UCLA community (employee or student) who approves of the battle in Iraq, and I don't believe it's appropriate for them to marginalize us in this manner.
Additionally, I'm curious about another factor. There was apparently some trouble reaching a quorum for the Faculty Senate meeting -- if at least 200 professors don't show up there can be no meeting. The final vote on the resolution was 180 to 7 (with 13 abstaining?), and what I can't figure out is why the 7 who voted nay didn't just leave and eliminate the quorum.
Opinion Journal quotes this headline from Pravda: "Russian Weapons Make All Countries Feel Safe". The article itself is quite an interesting read, and the title is fun to analyze -- Russian weapons don't make countries safe, they just make countries feel safe. The countries that have the Russian weapons, or those countries' enemies? Here are some other choice bits.
It became obvious after Iraq ingloriously surrendered to coalition forces of the USA and Great Britain: no country could feel safe without nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.Actually, Iraq's forces, and their Russian weapons, were totally defeated.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov happily stated during his visit to South Korea that a number of addresses to the Russian Defense Ministry pertaining to deliveries of up-to-date conventional arms had increased greatly. The minister did not fail to thank the American government for advertising cheap and reliable Russian arms for free.I really hope that all our enemies buy Russian weapons, please oh please. I think our government should endorse them heavily.
The popularity of the Russian weapons has not suffered a bit on account of the fact that the Iraqi army lost the war. At the end of the day, the Soviet weapons - Kalashnikov guns, MiG planes and guided missiles - defeated the American army in Vietnam.Where to start? Russian weapons defeated American soldiers who fought with their hands tied behind their backs 30 years ago. Why not buy weapons from the American Indians? They defeated Custer a while back.
A lot of countries (especially Muslim ones) evince their interest in compact anti-aircraft complex Phoenix, which is capable of detecting and downing air targets.Figure that one out.
The Russian leadership will need to have a lot of courage and political will to arm the whole world. Russia might help a lot of countries in this respect, if it is allowed to do so, of course.I hope they do sell weapons to the world. It will help their economy, and weaken our enemies at the same time.
It is worth mentioning here that members of the Saudi royal family have already released public statements like "we are buying Russian weapons whenever we want, and the USA is not an instructor to us." It is rather hard to imagine that American officials will quietly watch the Russian defense industry selling more and more modern weapons, especially to those countries, which might become another target for the USA to hit.I guess everyone knows by now that Saudi Arabia is on The List. I hope their Russian weapons don't kill us all when we come knocking.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ELOQUENT: I'm sure we've all had a class whose subject matter is incredibly interesting, but whose professor is not a particularly great communicator. At some universities (*cough cough*) it's partially due to the fact that many of the professors don't want to be teaching -- they want to be researching, getting grants, and publishing papers. Sometimes the professor just doesn't speak English well, or isn't a very fluid speaker. Sometimes I just sit in class and mentally pound my head against the desk thinking, you know so many things that I want to know, tell me them right now! Some of the professors at UCLA are quite brilliant in their fields, but I sit in class and everything just washes over me because they can't articulate it in an understandable way. It's maddening because I want to know everything and they seem to be incapable of telling me.
Another situation we're all probably familiar with is trying to make conversation with that girl that sits next to you in class. I've written a story about Flirtation, and how difficult it can be at times. Usually it ends up with me feeling like a babbling idiot (today, for instance). Words just keep pouring out of my mouth in broken phrases and endless run-on sentences, and when I look back I can't even figure out what the heck I said. Mostly nonsense, I'm certain. I have no problem talking in front of hundreds of people, but sit me down next to a cute girl and my mind just goes totally blank. It's like I have nothing to say, but I have to talk anyway. I like to think that I'm moderately eloquent (or at least coherent), but this afternoon I felt like a total doofus.
In the various jobs that I've had over my life, I have learned that the key to advancement and achievment is speaking and writing with clarity. Sure, it's important to know your stuff and meet your deadlines, but it's equally important to write clear reports and to explain yourself and your knowledge with words. I'm an engineer, and I work with many non-native English speakers and with many people who are far better with numbers than with words, and the fact that I can speak and write precisely has been a great advantage for me. I suspect that in any field, particularly those that are not writing-intensive (as law is, for example), strong language skills can be useful for setting yourself above and apart from your co-workers. In fact, once you reach a certain point in your career language skills can be more important than technical skills simply due to the requirements of management and administration.
It doesn't matter what you know if you can't share with other people.
ETHICS AND MOTIVATION: Eugene Volokh points out that when private individuals boycott others or fire them because of their speech there is no First Amendment violation. Private actors cannot violate your First Amendment rights -- only the government can do that. The First Amendment creates no obligation on the part of private citizens to listen to you, support you, purchase your products, or associate with you in any way. Eugene then asks whether or not it is ethical to retaliate economically against people you disagree with. Is it morally acceptable for me to not only refuse to buy your product, but to also try and convince others not to do so either?
As with many ethical issues, the answer comes down to motivation. The same action, taken with differing motives, can be either right or wrong -- let's consider a concrete example. Michael Moore is an annoying blowhard who regularly speaks against my Constitutional right to keep and bear a gun. This makes me angry, especially because he uses his mild celebrity as a platform for advocating his views and is eager to lie to further his cause. If I supported a boycott of Michael Moore's "work" based on my loathing for him personally and a desire to see him die pennyless in the gutter, I do not believe that my motivations would be ethical; my actions would be primarly based on spite and a desire to harm, and I don't think that would be right.
However, I could alternatively be inclined to support such a boycott based on my belief that Moore's positions are harmful both to me personally, and to the country as a whole. I believe that having less restrictive gun laws would save hundreds of lives every year, and by speaking out against such a possibility (and even calling for more restricive laws) Michael Moore is directly involved in promoting these deaths. His ability to advance this agenda is based on his celebrity and fame, and so by supporting a boycott against him and his work I can undercut the source of his power to do evil, as well as possibly encourage him to change his views due to his own desires for fame and fortune. Thus, if this were my motivation then my support for such a boycott would be moral, and perhaps even obligatory.
The use of economic force is then justified in the same manner as the use of other forms of force. Defending oneself and defending others are justifiable motivations, but using force based merely on a desire to injure someone you dislike is not morally acceptable.
SLEEPING DRAGON: Mean Mr. Mustard has written an interesting analysis on the possible future of China as a world power, based on a series of lectures by a Prof. Gregor at Berkeley. In response, I posted the following to his comments section:
First, IANAE (I Am Not An Economist), but I play one on TV. Trade "deficits" aren't really bad, and can be particularly good from a national security point of view. For instance, if China goes to war with us they immediately lose access to all our hard cash, and all we lose is their plastic crap that we can easily make ourselves. This is a huge disincentive and greatly reduces the chance that China will want to fight us.
In a balanced economic exchange, we trade cash for goods of equal value; our economy does not lose any net wealth. It can, however, become a problem if hard currency is invested in foreign countries, and in fact this is one of the middle east's largest problems. Saudi Arabia has nearly $100 billion invested in North America and Europe; if that money had instead been put to work in the middle east it could do a lot to stimulate their economies. Of course, no one will invest money if their investments will be constantly at risk of war and seizure.
Secondly, China has a lot of people but is absolutely no match for the American military. Their equipment is worse than Iraq's was, and they have little training. Additionally, even if a significant portion of their population could be conscripted it would consist entirely of light infantry which would be no match for our armor on the ground, or our planes in the sky. China will be unable to modernize or improve their military capability until AFTER they industrialize, at which point it is hoped that they will also have democratized.
The China situation should be handled carefully, but I do not believe they are the threat that many make them out to be.
COULROPHOBIA: Mark Aveyard writes about clowns. He doesn't seem to like most of them, other than Krusty, and I think that's perfectly understandable. I'm certainly not the first to point out that there is something distinctly unsettling about clowns. There's some unspoken understanding that clowns are funny, and it's so ingrained that the clown persists, despite the painfully obvious fact that clowns are not in the least bit funny. Many people are afraid of clowns, most people seem to dislike them, and no one thinks they're funny in general.
That's why they bother me. Is civilization too afraid to tell the clowns the truth? Your time has passed! Get a new schtick, and don't even consider miming. The water-squirting flowers and tiny cars that hold 50 clowns just aren't amusing anyone anymore. In the age of Real Ultimate Power, The Powerpuff Girls, Hamtaro, and the GBA SP, you are nothing more than the remnant of entertainment's pitiful past, invisibly forgotten. Go gently into that good night.
COMPUTER INTERFACES: James Lileks mentions computer interfaces in his Bleat today, and I wanted to comment briefly since this touches on one my my major interests. In his final three paragraphs, Mr. Lileks says:
If you opened your desk drawer and saw a floating maelstrom of recent bank statements and insurance bills, it wouldn’t help you find a receipt from 2001. You’d want to say the name of the paper you requested and have it pop out of whatever folder you’d put it in.
So either we breed supersmart hamsters that can throw up the relevant piece of paper on demand, or we work on voice recognition, or we learn to parse marching index cards.
I’ll chose the middle option. I love my computer. I already talk to it. How sweet will be the day when it listens, and replies.
He may not realize that the type of performance he desires is not dependent on mere voice recognition, but will also require the development of supersmart hamsters -- useful AI. Voice recognition is reletively mature, but the AI required behind the scenes to yield such spectacular results does not yet exist.
In the process of earning my PhD in artificial intelligence, I've refined my expectations for the future of AI. Sure, machines like HAL or Johnny 5 would be fascinating, but I don't think the true promise of AI lies in self-aware machines. Consider instead HAL's initial job description: it was designed to add a layer of abstraction to the otherwise complicated task of operating the spacecraft. The task would otherwise be impossible for two astronauts; the International Space Station requires a crew of three just to stay in low-earth orbit. With HAL's assistance the task of maintaining the ship was vastly simplified by leaving the details to the computer.
This is my hope for the future of AI in the real world. Forget about sentient robots that are indistinguiable from humans... what's the point? Instead, AI research should focus on assisting humans with their daily activities. One of the only areas in which computers surpass humans is in data management, and this strength should be harnessed to abstract-away many of the trivial details that consume our time. Consider the simple task of buying groceries. A sufficient articifially intelligent agent could handle the job more capably than a human can, by comparing food prices, keeping track of household inventory, observing consumption trends among household members, and then ordering the necessary food.
If it's done right, the homeowner may never have to intervene other than to tweak preferences or make special requests.
SELF-DEFEAT: Glenn Reynolds writes at Tech Central Station that :
Tyrannical dictatorships depend on lies for survival - in fact, near-universal lying about nearly everything by nearly everyone is one of their hallmarks. Meanwhile those things that aren't lies (and a great many that are) are secrets. Which raises an interesting point regarding the style of warfare demonstrated in Iraq.
One of the great worries of a country that pioneers a new military technique is that its rivals will imitate it. But that may not be a major worry where the new, high-intelligence style of warfare employed in Iraq is concerned, at least not if you assume that our military opponents are likely to be tyrannies of one sort or another.
This goes back to my earlier post in which I pointed out that totalitarian governments are inherently unstable. The very qualities that make them tyrannical (and thus likely to be our enemies) also make them weak, militarily and economically.
On a level that may seem ridiculous to some (ok, most) people, this is where computer strategy games get it all wrong. Typically, in empire-building games such as the Civilization series, the Master of Orion series, and others, the player can choose the form of government for his empire. Representative type governments tend to have high science bonuses, socialist governments tend to have high industry, and dictatorial governments tend to have high military power. This makes the game-worlds interesting by forcing the player to weigh the costs and benefits of each, but in the real world all forms of government were not created equal, and representative civilizations tend to outperfom their competitors in every area.
TIMING, RELEVANCE, ABSURDITY: I first heard that the UCLA Faculty Senate was considering passing a resolution condemning the battle in Iraq from Prof. Eugene Volokh, and I've been watching the issue closely ever since. As Eugene has pointed out, only a very few members of the UCLA faculty can claim expertise in relevant fields such as international relations or middle eastern history, and an anti-war resolution by the generally non-expert faculty is as irrelevant as such a resolution passed by a labor union.
Of course, irrelevance didn't stop the UCLA faculty from passing such a resolution on Monday. Blind to his lack of credentials, physics professor Karoly Holczer said "The few academic senates in the country are the only organizations who should take a stand on human morals. It's more than our right, it's our obligation." Naturally, not only are professors the most qualified people to comment on the morality of the war, they are the only people qualified. Most of the fighting in Iraq is already over, Saddam's government has been toppled, and the lives of Iraqis have already improved dramatically. So the UCLA Faculty Senate is nearly as irrelevant to the issue as are whiny celebrities, but it has even worse timing. Good job, you make me proud.
For some reason, I'm not at all surprised that the Faculty Senate rules were played fast and loose in order to even establish a quorum. The Daily Bruin article above says:
Faculty began to get restless about an hour into the discussion, and some started asking the moderator if they had reached quorum. John Tucker, chief administrative officer of the senate, replied that they needed one more.
Suddenly, a professor who refused to give his name entered, and Tucker announced quorum had been reached.
The man then marched to the front of the assembly and demanded an official count by the moderator. As suddenly as he had come, he left the room, bringing the count back below 200.
A heated debate ensued, with members yelling at each other over the validity of the now absent man's quorum call.
The entire episode seems surreal to me. The resolution was passed 180 - 7 (with 13 members abstaining? or... not present?). I have no doubt that these professors are talented within their fields (mostly...) but this type of absurdity reminds me why I want to stay out of that ivory tower.
I emailed Eugene about the quote by Holczer above, and he pointed out that it's so absurd that he suspects Holczer either misspoke, or was misquoted. He's probably right, and I'm going to email Prof. Holczer to find out if this is the case.
NOW WHO'S SMART?: Robert Bartley has an article up at Opinion Journal that describes why Bush's correctness on the Iraq issue should carry weight as America deals with other issues, such as tax cuts.
Jubilant crowds in Baghdad show that President Bush and his team were spectacularly right and his critics spectacularly wrong. And this says something about who are the smart guys and who are the dullards in this society--or at least, what kind of mindset leads to good judgments.
Now democracy is spreading in a remarkable way. There are 54 African nations; Africa is the poorest continent on earth. In 1989 only four of these nations were democracies; in 2003, 17 of them are democratic despite poverty, the spread of Aids, and the social problems of tribalism. In 1989 the Warsaw Pact still existed. None of the regions of the Soviet Union, nor any of the Warsaw Pact nations, were democracies. Now most former Soviet countries and all the Warsaw Pact nations are democracies, despite corruption and the ghosts of the past. Self-government in a free society has become the global standard. ...
The American victory in Iraq is a warning to the tyrants and terrorists of the world. The momentum of liberty continues to accelerate. The dictators have had a very bad couple of decades; in 1980 the world was still “half slave and half free”. Now the remaining dictators, old Castro, young Assad, Kim Jong Il, mad Mugabe and the others, look foolish and obsolete, though still horrible. They must mend their ways or liberty and democracy will amend them.
The world is a competitive environment, and over time efficient processes will out-compete inefficient ones. Totalitarian government is on the way out, not because it's morally repugnant (which it is) but because it is inefficient and cannot compete with free and open societies. A totalitarian government is precariously balanced and difficult to maintain; the longer it is in existence the more stable it can become, but it always perches on the cusp of an unstable equilibrium.
Iraq is a perfect example. The government was very stable internally due to mass psychology and brute force, but one solid push from the outside and the entire construction toppled to the ground. Try to imagine a similar breakdown of morale and order in the United States -- even if we are someday faced with overwhelming military force. I may be biased, but I think that many/most Americans would be willing to fight and die for our country and our freedoms if some invader threatened to take them from us, and our society could not be so easily torn asunder for precisely that reason.
I believe that if we play our cards right and do not tolerate brutal dictatorships even when it is in our short-term best interests (I'm looking at you, France), ours may be the last generation that has to struggle overtly against this totalitarian meme; perhaps we can force it underground and eventually out of civilization altogether.
WHAT ARE WE?: As a part of a homework assignment for my Population Genetics class I had to "summarize and comment" on this New York Times article in 200 words or less.
Dr. Small argues that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology do not accurately predict real life mating choices made by human beings. Although some predictions by these fields follow intuitive lines and can be supported by research studies, statistical analysis, and anecdotal evidence, in the end Dr. Small believes that "Our brains are not designed specifically to desire this or that, but to weigh the options, and then get down to the business of having babies."
Her point appears to be that culture and society influence mate selection among humans as much as genetics do, but I do not believe that this assertion is controversial. The real difficulty is her underlying assumption that culture is itself independent of genetics; this is much more questionable. If biology is not the basis for society, what is? If the laws of physics and chemistry do not wholly determine our existence, where does that leave us? If quantum mechanics and initial state-sensitive chaos theory do not induce our every thought, what are we? Some supra-physical embodiment of free will? God forbid.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?: One of the things that most surprised me about the Iraq endeavor is that the Russians played a very strong hand very poorly. Sure, they're heavily invested in Iraq and stand to lose a considerable amount of money now that Saddam's regime has fallen, but from the very beginning it must have been obvious to any intelligent observer that there was no other possible outcome once Bush made up his mind to attack. It's phenomenal to me that Putin could have anticipated any other conclusion. That said, I don't understand why he was so eager to squander the goodwill that had been built up between himself and Bush over the past couple of years, and between Russia and America in general over the past decade.
He should have realized that his best hope for recovering any portion of the money that Saddam owed him was to give America political support during our war effort in exchange for a committment on our part to honor some portion of the debts. Russia has it's own problems with Islamic terrorists in Chechnya, and it would have been politically easy (internationally, not necessarily internally) for Putin to have at least remained neutral, as China has largely done. Instead, he decided to line up with the Axis of Weasels and is now basically stuck with the worst possible scenario: no chance of debt repayment, and a strained relationship with the United States. All for nothing.
Instapundit has more along the same line. It's quite mystifying to me. Glenn suggests that Putin may have been ill-advised by incompetent Russian generals. Who knows. Russia has a lot more going for it than France does because Russia is a powerful international player apart from its seat at the UN Security Council. I expect that although we will move to punish France, we will be more conciliatory towards Russia for precisely this reason. Russia will be useful to us in the future, but France is now basically worthless.
TEEN PREGNANCY: Teen birth rates and pregnancy rates have both been dropping for the past decade or so, and many sources have been attributing these drops to more widespread condom usage. However, here's a newly released study that indicates that the drops are almost entirely due to increasing abstinence among teenagers.
“Our research was much more sophisticated than all previous research on the subject,” said Joanna Mohn, a physician from New Jersey and the primary researcher of the study. “We took into account important statistics on girls who are married as well as those who had not be sexually involved for more than a year.”
The study determined that abstinence is the primary reason for the decline in births and pregnancies among teens. Among unmarried girls abstinence accounted for the entire decline in births and 67 percent of drop in
Previous research claimed that 75 percent of the pregnancy decline was due to the increased used of contraception, 25 percent to abstinence. “The decline in the number of teens who were married accounted for 24 percent of the decline in teen pregnancies,” Mohn explained. “This decline had previously been attributed to contraception, producing a significant source of error in earlier research.”
NORTH KOREA: People have been asking me about North Korea... what can I do but refer them to the master?
...young Arab toughs cannot tolerate insults to their manhood. So, as American armored columns pushed down the road to Baghdad, 400-watt loudspeakers mounted on Humvees would, from time to time, blare out in Arabic that Iraqi men are impotent. The Fedayeen, the fierce but undisciplined and untrained Iraqi irregulars, could not bear to be taunted. Whether they took the bait or saw an opportunity to attack, many Iraqis stormed out of their concealed or dug-in positions, pushing aside their human shields in some cases—to be—slaughtered by American tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.
One point that the article doesn't specifically make, but that I think is very important, is that there was a critical political reason for attacking Iraq with as small a force as we did. We took over the entire country with only five divisions of grunts -- and only three and a half of those divisions were American; that's around a third of our military power, not counting the heavy use of our Air Force and Naval Air Force. The fact that we could win so easily with such a small force should serve as a warning to North Korea, Iran, Syria, et al that we can take them all one at once if we need to, and that they are absolutely no match for our power.
Iraq had the 5th or 6th largest (/most powerful) army in the world, after the US, the UK, Russia, China, and possibly North Korea. And we decimated them in less than a month with minimal casualties. Just as this war should encourage our enemies to step a little more lightly, I hope it also helps to shake the "American street's" Vietnam-syndrome. America can win wars, we're the big man on campus, and "quagmire" is a thing of the past.
IRRATIONAL FEARS: Clayton Cramer notes an interesting claim: Primate Cloning Can't Work. The linked article explains some of the science behind the assertion. Even if all the science holds true, of course, that just makes human cloning harder, not impossible.
I don't think too much about cloning. Even if a technique for cloning humans could be perfected, it would still be much more expensive than having kids the old-fashioned way, and it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining I'm sure. Except to mad scientists, I guess. I would certainly have objections if celebrities started growing headless clones of themselves to harvest organs from, but that type of thing is far enough away that I'm content to leave it for my grandkids. Worrying about cloning is like worrying about an alien invasion: they're both theoretically possible, but the science involved is so astronomical (no pun intended) that what's the point?
Another silly fear: malignant artificial intelligences that take over humanity. It makes for a decent movie, but it's not even theoretically plausible yet, and I'm not sure it ever will be. I'm getting my PhD in AI, and the state of the art is qualitatively distant from any sort of human-like intelligence.
How about Grey Goo? This is the fear the nanorobots will take apart all the atoms of the earth and use them to build more and more copies of themselves, thus reducing everything on our planet, and the planet itself, to a uniformly smooth grey goo. However, that scenario is impossible, due to the same laws of physics that protect us from alien invasion.
Other threats, such as asteroids and plagues, are becoming less and less dangerous as our technology improves. Frankly, the biggest danger left appears to be the possiblity of a nuclear holocaust initiated by some terrorist organization. Fortunately, we're making some headway in that realm as well.
POST-WAR IRAQ: Rachel Lucas wrote yesterday about the "Arab street's" mystification with the stunning US victory over Saddam's Extra Super Duper Elite Republican Guards and their astonishment that the Iraqi Information Minister had been lying about the true state of the war. It's a good piece, and you should go read it... I've written on the subject before, as have others.
Near the end of her post, Miss Lucas quotes Egyptian President Mubarak saying that the US should withdraw its troops immediately, and responds with:
Yeah, right. If our troops withdrew now, approximately two seconds later we'd be accused of "abandonment." Doesn't anyone else remember what happened in 1991 when we left too soon? Sheesh. We'll help them get organized, we'll fix their food and water problems, we'll make sure all the baddies are gone, and then we'll leave. Simple as that.
I hate to disagree, but I highly doubt that our troops will be leaving Iraq any time soon; we will probably have US military bases in Iraq for decades, just as we have had in Germany and Japan. In fact, establishing permanent military bases in Iraq should be one of our highest priorities. This doesn't mean that we will occupy Iraq and control its government for decades, but our troops will not simply leave once the baddies are gone as Miss Lucas postulates.
AMERICAN MEDIA, COMPLICITY 2: On the same topic as my previous post, Eugene Volokh links to an interview with Eason Jordan from last fall in which he says of Iraq, "we work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there.... We'd very much like to be there if there's a second war; but -- we are not going to make journalistic compromises in an effort to make that happen...."
So... again, I don't know what to make of it. I'm not sure how I should feel. My initial reaction of disgust is heightened by these earlier lies. Maybe there's some alternative way to see the situation, but it appears to me that Eason Jordan sacrificed his morality on the altar of journalistic access.
AMERICAN MEDIA, COMPLICITY: I don't know what to make of this op-ed by Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive.
ATLANTA — Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard — awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff. ...
Then there were the events that were not unreported but that nonetheless still haunt me. A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi secret police occupying her country in 1990 for "crimes," one of which included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months, forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family's home.
I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.
I have no doubt that Jordan felt awful after hearing these stories, but I can't help but imagine that the woman who had her skull crushed and her limbs torn off felt even worse. If he and other journalists had this much detailed information about the atrocities happening in Iraq, why has big media been (for the most part) so dead-set against the war? Even aside from that -- let's say that you believe that CNN really has been unbiased -- why is neutrality in the face of such evil seen as virtuous by so many in the media? It's not virtuous, it's morally reprehensible for any person to sit passively in the face of such brutality; such acquiescence flirts dangerously with complicity.
Jordan is correct in thinking that he could not have maintained a CNN bureau in Baghdad without allowing these monstrous acts to slip by, and so I'm forced to wonder how it could have been worth it. The alternative would have been to relinquish CNN's government contacts, pull out, and then actually report the truth of what they had seen. The problem is that the moral bankruptcy of most journalists prizes access to sources, no matter what the cost.
I have written before, twice, on the topic of allowing women to particpate in front line combat. Via Instapundit I see a discussion on Slate on the same issue, written by women who were actually in the military. An excerpt from the first day of the conversation:
So, our question is, should the Army and Marines be forced to change policies that prohibit women from taking combat jobs in their infantry and artillery units? The question was brought up ad nauseam after Gulf War I (since we'd entered a period of peace and prosperity and had time to address nonessential concerns), and if we're lucky enough to have bought ourselves more peace and prosperity I think we're gonna hear it again.
But I sure hope not. The only people who truly want to see women in combat are some TV producers who think it's a "sexy" issue and approximately 500 cranks assembled on college campuses and in NGOs around the Beltway.
The national argument might be worth having if there was some vast, seething body of women longing to personally stick it to the enemy, but Debra, we both know there is not. I have friends and acquaintances up and down the rank structure and from every service—tough, bright, feisty gals all—and I have never met, and they have never met, a woman who burns to join the ground-pounders. (Several large-scale surveys back me up on this.)
The truth is, there are only about 200 women a year who could meet the physical standards required, and even fewer who would select this MOS (military job). So, we'd have a lot of tsores over a few people. And if we launch a legal battle on the subject, we'll open ourselves up to a Supreme Court ruling that might require a female draft for combat positions—and that would be a real debacle.
There's tons more, so go read it if you're interested.
CALIFORNIA CCW: Getting a concealed weapon permit in California is nearly impossible, unless you happen to be a celebrity or a crony of a major political figure. For example, Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein routinely advocate stricter gun control laws, and yet both of them have permits to carry a concealed weapon for themselves. Law-abiding citizens with no criminal record cannot legally carry guns in California, but actors like Sean Penn can, despite his violent criminal history. It's disgusting and disgraceful.
INSOLUBLE STRAWMEN: I like this term, and I think it serves to describe many of the arguments made against the use of profiling for law enforcement. Regardless of the type of profiling (be it based on race, gender, religion, country of origin, &c.), the objections to it are generally similar in form: they construct an unresolvable conflict between the goal of the profiling and the basis for the objection, and they set up this conflict using arguments that are predicated on the goal of the profiling (namely security) already being met.
As a concrete example, take this article by David Chang in the Daily Bruin titled "National Insecurity".
Performing arts organizations have always had to jump through hoops just to convince government agencies to allow international artists to enter the United States. With the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the current conflict with Iraq etched in the nation's psyche, the process of booking international artists has turned into an episode of "Mission: Impossible." ...
"There's a list of countries where males, not females, coming into the country have to do face to face interviews," UCLA Live Director David Sefton said. "The FBI are involved in the visa-granting process for the first time in history. That fortress-of-America thing has become much more of a factor. The whole so-called Homeland Security Initiative has really made it more difficult to bring in artists from a whole list of countries, including Pakistan, who is supposed to be on our side, and Cuba, who to my knowledge hasn't expressed an opinion one way or the other." ...
Mitoma [a festival organizer] is deeply apprehensive about the culture of fear and mistrust the nation seems to be creating. Not only are international artists hesitant about coming to the United States, but organizers are also shying away from enormous obstacles the government has placed in front of them. ... "The irony and pain is that it's a time of great need, and this U.S. government's policy has locked the doors, thrown away the key, and said, 'We're not sympathetic, and we have to defend the national security,'" Mitoma said.
Part of the problem with the article, of course, is that the author doesn't have a comment by an actual government entity but rather quotes an opponent of Homeland Security who attributes a certain attitude to the government. The article states that artists from suspect countries have always had to "jump through hoops" to get visas, but are these hoops any different than those required for non-artists? The underlying assumption of the whole article is that strict visa requirements for artists are not necessary for protecting the country, but no solution is proposed because the problem is not solvable.
There are two possibilities, neither of which is practical. First, eliminate the new visa rules and allow everyone from these now-suspect countries to enter based on the previous standards. This is unacceptable for security reasons, and will clearly not be implemented. Second, create a set of special rules that allow artists to bypass the strict visa requirements that apply to other people. Aside from the security issues that might raise (terrorists disguising themselves as artists, or other abuses of the special system), I can't see this as being politically acceptable to the left. It is, in fact, a type of job-profiling that by its very nature should violate the same morality that causes some people to be upset by other forms of profiling.
David Chang does highlight an important side effect of heightened national security, but he does so in a way that denegrates the security measures put in place by the government without offering a viable alternative. In fact, no alternative exists that would satisfy security concerns as well as the morality that decries the original profiling. The fact that some international artists now have more difficulty performing in the United States is important, but the direct and implied criticism of the government is unwarrented and based on an insoluble strawman.
BOMBS UNDER BAGHDAD: I've heard lots of rumors about extensive tunnel systems that may exist under the city of Baghdad. The most credible of these rumors have come from Iraq's ex-chief nuclear scientist, by Hussein Shahristani, who defected to the United States during Operation Desert Storm (or "Gulf War 1" for those of you who like the boring media names). I'd also read such rumors on Debka, but that's not exactly a reliable news source.
If you're interested in reading more about the tunnels check out these two articles that my friend Joey sent me:
- Closing In on Baghdad Will Push War Underground in WaPo
- Tunnels of Baghdad may be the war's last frontier in The Christian Science Monitor
One note: the CSM article claims that US night-vision technology would not help us in the tunnels because there is too little light for the goggles to magnify. This is true, but the goggles can also be combined with infrared lights that can illuminate the scene for the soldiers without giving away their positions.
REGULATION THROUGH TORT: As everyone undoubtedly knows, various trial lawyers and liberal groups have been filing lawsuits against the tobacco industry on behalf of people who have injured or killed themselves by smoking. Unfortunately for the tobacco corporations, very few people rallied to protect them against these egregious lawsuits despite the fact that their actions should be protected and that their various "victims" should be held responsible for their own choices. Like others, I don't really like smoking, and so even though I do believe that the companies had a right to sell their product as they did, I found it hard to muster much sympathy for them.
However, the fact that the public let these lawsuits slip past (and even encouraged them) has led to more lawsuits of similar form. Some of the most absurd are recent actions to sue gun manufacturers when someone uses their product in an illegal manner and injures or kills another person. As it stands, if I shoot you you have a cause of action to sue me in civil court for damages. Under this new theory, you also have a cause of action to sue whoever sold me the gun, whoever manufactured the gun, and perhaps every company in the gun industry as a whole. This is akin to geting hit by someone driving an Explorer, and then deciding to sue Ford for building the vehicle that hit you.
To eliminate these potential lawsuits, and perhaps break the momentum of this new culpability theory in general, the House passed a bill (H.R. 1036) today whose purpose is:
To prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from the misuse of their products by others.
It passed 285 - 140, and should pass the Senate as well (although by a narrower margin). Via CNSNews.
POST-WAR IRAQ: I've written a few pieces about post-war Iraq (who hasn't?) and in the end the main difficulty facing the Iraqi people is that their economy is stagnant, and bloated with monopolized oil wealth. Part of the solution to this problem is for the new Iraqi government to divest itself of its oil holdings, and to put them into the hands of private corporations. Expanding on this idea, John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge argue over at Opinion Journal that corporations are indeed the economic revolution needed throughout the Arab world.
Companies, and lots of them, are exactly what Iraq (and indeed the whole of Arabia) needs. Developing private-sector corporations is the key to unlocking Iraq's economic potential. This will also help unleash a powerful liberal force in a society that has tasted too little freedom. ...
Yet the Arab world--just like that other erstwhile commercial pioneer, China--failed to develop private-sector companies in the same way that the West did. The decisive break came in the mid-19th century, when Victorian Britain passed a series of Companies Acts making it easy to establish limited-liability private-sector companies. Capital that had been trapped in fragile family partnerships (like Dickens's Dombey & Son) or stodgy state-approved monopolies was suddenly free to roam. In the West and Japan (the only Asian country to embrace the form), these new "Ltds," "Incs" and so on revolutionized productivity, showered consumers with a relentless series of innovations and drove the first great age of globalization.
The Arab world's failure to adopt this revolution meant that it fell ever further behind the West. Islamic inheritance law--dividing estates among sons--made it difficult for partnerships to grow to a size where they needed outside capital. The state still dominated the economy. When the Arabs did try to catch up with the West, inspired by "the lion of Egypt," Gamal Abdel Nasser, they chose to imitate the centrally planned economies of the communist world, further marginalizing private companies. Nasser, a devoted reader of Le Monde and Britain's New Statesman, would have been better off studying the Harvard Business Review.
POP MUSIC: The Diablogger has a post up wherein he metions an incredibly catchy song by Avril Levine (although he doesn't know her name, or the name of the song). That pretty much sums up pop music, doesn't it? Some of Avril's music can move in and set up camp in your head, but it's as if someone took the best hooks and resolutions from the past 20 years and shoved them onto three or four tracks. As I wrote in his comments section, pop is the background noise of life. It's shallow, meaningless, and largely fungible... but you know we'd all miss it if it were suddenly gone. And besides, Avril's pretty cute.
QUOTES FROM THE GROUND: I enjoy reading quotes from soldiers on the ground. Most of the time, the political and military spokespeople guard their words carefully and try not to say interesting things, but anyone who has been in combat (which I haven't) or knows soldiers who have (which I do) understands that the emotions and thoughts on the battlefield aren't quite so tightly controlled. So, I love the headline of this article: 'We shoot them down like the morons they are': US general.
Hundreds of Muslim fighters, many of them non-Iraqis, were putting up a stronger fight for Baghdad than Iraq's Republican Guard or the regular army, a top United States military officer said yesterday.
"They stand, they fight, sometimes they run when we engage them," Brigadier-General John Kelly said.
"But often they run into our machine guns and we shoot them down like the morons they are."
General Kelly, assistant commander of the about 20,000-strong 1st Marine Division, said US intelligence indicated that there might be anywhere between 500 and 5000 of the fighters, whom he described as terrorists.
"They appear willing to die. We are trying our best to help them out in that endeavour," he said.
I found this article via Instapundit.
ELECTION 2004: I woke up this morning and turned on Fox News Channel while I was lifting weights, and I saw the most amazing scene in Baghdad. Hundreds of Iraqis crowding around a huge statue of Saddam and cheering as it was pulled down. When the statue hit the ground the crowd surged against it, beating it and throwing rocks. A few seconds later a man was sitting on the statue's head and other people were pulling him around, laughing and cheering. The station then cut to another scene of Iraqis riding around the city in the ubiquitous white pick-ups waving American flags in jubilation. I'm sure everyone who has turned on the TV has seen these same images by now.
So what's that got to do with the 2004 election? The second thing I thought of when I saw these scenes (after wiping a tear from my eye) was that they will make irrefutable ads for Bush against any of his potential Democrat opponents. I'm no political strategist, but I have played Karl Rove on TV, and I can see the ads already: over a backdrop of cheering Iraqis, toppling statues, and waving American flags, we see a small image of Democrat X complaining about Bush's "unilateralism" and threatening that the war will be a huge failure.
This CNN article describes a strange (and to me unsettling) movement in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to randomly take DNA samples from huge quantities of men as part of an effort to catch a local serial killer. So far,
More than 1,000 men have been swabbed, picked to "volunteer" for the tests based on tips or information generated in the investigation. Defense attorneys in Baton Rouge have said some of their clients have agreed to the testing to avoid speculation they could be the killer.
[Representative] Welch wants as many men as possible swabbed. She said she's paying to have DNA samples taken from her husband and son to clear them although no one has suggested they are involved.
This is disturbing to me for many reasons. The only thing preventing this sort of wide-spread DNA testing for every difficult-to-solve crime is the fact that DNA testing is expensive and takes a significant amount of time. There are only a limited amount resources available to do this testing, and so it isn't feasible to test every single man every time there's a rape. (Wouldn't that be sexual profiling, anyway?) However, it's only a matter of time until police have handheld DNA equipment that can compare fluid samples and return matches in minutes or seconds... what then?
Will police be enabled to pressure everyone they come across into submitting to a DNA test or risk speculation that they are guilty? Or will everyone simply be required to submit DNA to a central database? How long until there are machines that scour the streets for dried spit, compare the DNA to the database, and then mail you a ticket? It might sound ridiculous, but I get the very strong impression that this is exactly the world that some people want to create.
NYAH NYAH: I love that so many of the groups that I dislike have lined up on the wrong side of the War on Terror: Battle for Iraq issue. The Democrats primarily have lost a ton of ground, as have the UN, France, Germany, anti-war hippies, communists, and all other manner of bottom-feeding fantasylanders. It's beautiful to me that so many of them were so incredibly wrong about this issue; now that our military has used [gasp] force to eliminate Saddam as a threat to the world and to his own people, these groups just have to sit there and eat crow like it's going out of style.
Maybe I'm petty, but so be it. Nyah nyah, I told you so.
POST-WAR IRAQ: One of the most bizarre things to me is that the Arab world has some of the least trustworthy "news" outlets conceivable, and yet the "Arab street" seems to believe everything they're fed. You may think "No way, everyone knows the Iraqi Information Minister is lying" but that's apparently not the case:
A captured Iraqi colonel being held in one of the hangars [at the recently captured Baghdad Airport] listened in astonishment as his information minister praised Republican Guard soldiers for recapturing the airport.
He looked at his captors and, as he realised that what he had heard was palpably untrue, his eye filled with tears. Turning to a translator, he asked: "How long have they been lying like this?"
Installing a truly free press in Iraq will be one of the most significant accomplishments in the region in the past few centuries. As biased as they are, I can't wait for some major US publications to set up shop in Baghdad and show them how it's done. The NYT and WaPo Baghdad Bureaus will stoke the fires of freedom that our military has already lit.
EXERCISE IN FUTILITY: I posted previously and mentioned a picture of soldiers being baptized in the Kuwaiti desert. The photo has been taken down by the Herald Sun, unfortunately. On the VC, Eugene mentions an article that says the following:
CAMP BUSHMASTER, Iraq - In this dry desert world near Najaf, where the Army V Corps combat support system sprawls across miles of scabrous dust, there's an oasis of sorts: a 500-gallon pool of pristine, cool water.
It belongs to Army chaplain Josh Llano of Houston, who sees the water shortage - which has kept thousands of filthy soldiers from bathing for weeks - as an opportunity.
"It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized," he said.
And agree they do. Every day, soldiers take the plunge for the Lord and come up clean for the first time in weeks.
"They do appear physically and spiritually cleansed," Llano said.
First, though, the soldiers have to go to one of Llano's hour-and-a-half sermons in his dirt-floor tent. Then the baptism takes an hour of quoting from the Bible.
"Regardless of their motives," Llano said, "I get the chance to take them closer to the Lord."
Good grief, this is absurd on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin. Obviously, Llano's assertion that "regardless of their motives" they are brought closer to God is ridiculous. Our motives are some of the most important things to God (see Matthew 5:21-30), and dunking someone in water without a real profession of faith is worse than pointless. It must be clear to just about everyone that coercing people into making religious declarations has no spiritual benefit for the subject, and fosters significantly negative opinions of the religion among observers.
I'm a bit skeptical of the veracity of this article, just because it seems so nonsensical. Why does this guy have 500 gallons of water all to himself? It must be a lot more than that, because it would get dirty pretty quickly once you start dunking dirty marines in it. I don't know much about military chaplains, but if this story is true I hope that most of them are more highly trained, better informed, more spiritually mature, and psychologically deeper than Josh Llano.
RACIAL DIVERSITY: Eric Muller is guest-blogging over at the Volokh Conspiracy, and has written a post that touches on the issue of racial diversity and affirmative action. I've emailed him a couple of questions regarding his position, and thought I'd post them here:
... Near the end of your post you write that "my own personal experience of teaching for four years at a racially homogeneous law school (the University of Wyoming) and now at a racially integrated one UNC) tells me that racial diversity does in fact contribute importantly to full and rigorous discussion and debate in a law school classroom."
1. In your mind, then, is affirmative action justified solely on your perception that it contributes to fuller and more rigorous discussion and debate? That is, is it immaterial to you that many (most?) affirmative action programs have been built around the belief that some groups have been unfairly discriminated against in the past, and are thus unable to compete on a level playing field?
2. Would you support other preferential admission systems that could also arguably improve the quality of the discussion and debate at a school? For instance, preferences based on religion or political affiliation could be justified under this criteria at least as easily as preferences based on skin color. Similarly, would you support hiring policies that gave preference to applicants who are members of under-represented political groups or religions?
Diversity of all kinds is important to our society, and I think it's unfortunate that when diversity is mentioned people often only think of race.
I didn't follow the news very much over the weekend, and I didn't really get online at all other than to check my email. I'm pleased to read this morning on both WaPo and Fox News that our soldiers believe they have found some indications of chemical weapons. Specifically, sarin gas. Both reports have similar information:
Meanwhile, U.S. biological and chemical weapons experts believe they may have found an Iraqi storage site for weapons of mass destruction, a U.S. officer told Reuters.
"Our detectors have indicated something," Major Ros Coffman, a public affairs officer with the U.S. 3rd Infantry, said of the site just south of Hindiyah. "We're talking about finding a site of possible WMD storage. This is an initial report, but it could be a smoking gun."
U.S. forces near Baghdad found around 20 medium-range missiles equipped with chemical weapons, National Public Radio reported.
The rockets, BM-21 missiles, were equipped with sarin and mustard gas and were "ready to fire," NPR said, attributing the report to a top official with the 1st Marine Division.
It's also worth pointing out that there are many signs that Iraq moved a great deal of its WMD weaponry to Syria before we invaded, and I'm sure that this is one of the possibilities that our military will be looking into.
If this speculation turns out to be true, will we send troops into Syria to fetch the weapons back to Iraq? Possibly, but it's more likely that we will pressure Syria under the table to return the stuff. Once Iraq is stablized Syria will need to maintain much more cooperative ties to the US than it does now, and I imagine that our officials will tell Syria that there's no better time time to get started than the present. Syria gets a lot of oil via pipelines from Iraq (as does Turkey), and well, war can disrupt oil shipments for significant periods of time... if you know what I mean....
Hans Blix is curious and so is everyone else. The ex-inspector seems to think that even if Iraq does have chemical or biological weapons, they won't be used against coalition forces because "people would say, 'So, they were liars. They lied about this and there was a justification for the intervention.'" Somehow, I'm not sure that Saddam is too worried about people thinking he's a liar, when people already know he's a brutal murderer.
Still, it does surprise me that our forces haven't announced any significant WMD finds. I suspect that it's largely because they aren't looking that hard yet; there are more important things to be doing at the moment. This WaPo/ABC poll indicates that "More than two-thirds of those interviewed-69 percent-now say that the war was justified even if the United States fails to turn up biological or chemical weapons, up from 53 percent in a survey taken the day after the war started." That's pretty much how I feel, as well... but I would still like us to find something. I've been very confident in the past that Saddam has had such things, but the lack of hard evidence (that we've been shown so far, anyway) at least gives me pause.
EDUCATIONAL DILEMMA: Well, if women and minorities can't score well on tests, then there must be a problem with the tests. Right?
Seriously though, the best solution to the education dilemma facing the nation isn't to alter the requirements for poorly-performing demographics. The best solution is to make sure that those demographics get the best possible secondary education so that they can compete effectively in college and the real world.
And how can this be done? Well, the current system is a failure, mostly due to the fact that it's basically socialist in structure. There is no reward given to successful schools and teachers, and no punishment for failure. Teachers' unions fight tooth and nail against any sort of incentive system. It is socially unacceptable to separate exceptional students from below-average students and to give each type the sort of education they need and deserve. The whole system is mired in mediocrity, as all socialist systems eventually become.
A sufficiently motivated administrator with absolute power over the bureaucracy could restructure the system to work efficiently, but that would create an unstable equilibrium that would collapse back into failure at the first opportunity. The only real solution is to wrest education from the public's hands and turn it entirely over to the private sector. It may not be "ideal", but it would be optimal.
POST-WAR IRAQ AND CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES: I haven't seen this predicted elsewhere yet, so I'll go out on a limb and say I'm the first to do so. Once the fighting dies down and travel to Iraq is opened up, I expect that there will be a tidal wave of Christian missionaries pouring into the country and the region. Under the new Iraqi civilian government freedom of the press and freedom of religion will be two non-negotiables that the US will insist upon, and this will open a door to evangelizing a region of the world that has been closed to Christianity for decades. Further, I expect that Christianity will be embraced by the previously oppressed population, especially the youth.
NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMYN: One thing that really pleases me about this War on Terror is how it has forced so many people and organizations to show their true colors. For instance, our staunch "allies" France and Germany. The war has also given opportunity to our actual allies like the UK, Australia, and numerous Easter European nations (all of whom I appreciate, truly) to stand beside us, and I am profoundly grateful. The UN has been shown to be useless and weak, NATO's flaws have been highlighted, and the liberal left of American politics has been humiliated and crushed (even if they don't realize it yet).
Anyway, on a lesser note, America's heroine Pvt. Jessica Lynch, the world's woman of the hour, praised and adored by freedom-loving people everywhere... is nowhere to be found on the homepage of the National Organization for Womyn. Probably because there are other important womyn who need to be mentioned, and other more important issues such as:
Bah! I declare the National Organization for Womyn to be useless and hypocritical, and I salute all the true women of merit around the world, starting with Private Lynch.
CHILDREN AT WAR: Force is the ultimate arbiter of disagreement in our world, and warfare is the supreme manifestation of force. Naturally then, people are fascinated with war, how it is waged, and how it is won. I wrote earlier (twice) that keeping women out of combat is a luxury that we, as a country, can afford; even more, we can afford to keep our children out.
If you are interested in understanding the shape of warfare around the world, however, I highly recommend this article by P. W. Singer that discusses the issue of child warriors. He explains how they are abducted and controlled by their adult commanders, and what situational circumstances facilitate to their use in combat. As he writes, it is inevitable that the US military will eventually be forced to fight and kill children armed by our enemies (such as the Hitler Youth in WW2), and it is important that we learn how to deal with them in the most effective manner, both during combat and afterwards.
One of the most interesting points that the article makes is that it is only because of recent technology that children are even able to fight effectively.
Technological and efficiency advances in these weapons permit the transformation of children into lethal fighters. For most of human history, weapons relied on the brute strength and long-term training of the operator, which was prohibitive to the effective use of children as soldiers. For example, a child not fully matured could not bear the physical burdens of serving in the phalanx. Even until just a generation ago, personal battlefield weapons were still heavy and bulky, generally limiting children's participation. But improvements in manufacturing, such as the incorporation of plastics, now make modern weapons--particularly automatic rifles--so light that small children can use them as effectively as adults. Just as important, most small arms have been simplified in their use, to the extent that they can be stripped, reassembled, and fired by a child below the age of ten. With only a few hours of training, a youngster can be taught all he or she needs to know in order to kill. At the same time, vast increases have been made in the lethality of small arms, multiplying their destructive power. Modern assault rifles give a handful of children the equivalent firepower of an entire Napoleonic regiment.
Via Geitner Simmons, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy.
POST-WAR IRAQ PART 982: Just wanted to point out that I slightly beat SDB to the punch in affirming that the US won't allow the UN to have a significant role in post-war Iraq. Er, well, it's not like he hasn't mentioned it ten thousand times before... but still.... Go read his more in-depth analysis, wherein he explains that no matter how much the Europeans complain, it just won't make any difference.
I hope we're right about this. I'm always so leery of politicians, but once Bush has made up his mind it tends to stay made up. The fact that Powell's opening position was so hard also indicates to me that the administration is serious, as I mentioned in my earlier post.
THE FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT: The first black president will be a Republican. Why? Because racial gerrymandering by Democrats produces Congressional districts that elect black candidates who are so extreme that they can never win higher office. Democrats benefit by keeping blacks and other minorities as far to the extreme left as possible.
In contrast, both Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are brilliant (especially Rice) and moderate black public servants with plenty of name recognition. Powell has said that he doesn't want to be president, and that's a good thing in my mind. History shows us that generals typically make poor presidents. I admire our military's generals a great deal, but the skill set and mental condition of a general are very different than that required for a president.
Rice has never held elected office. The most likely path that would lead her to the presidency would be to run for VP on Bush's ticket in 2004, and then run for president herself in 2008. It's possible, and of all the blacks in the country she has the highest chance of making it happen; I don't know how likely it is that she'll try, or that she would win the Republican primary, but she has more of a chance than Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson ever had of sitting in the Oval Office.
Every ground unit on a battlefield is amazingly vulnerable to attack from above. If guided with precision (and our weapons are nothing if not precise), there is literally no mobile ground unit available today that can withstand even a medium-sized (500-pound) direct hit. They are simply blown to pieces by such things, and again once the air defenses are destroyed there's nothing they can do to defend themselves against such an attack. On a battlefield in which your enemy has achieved air superiority if you move, you die. The problem is you must move in order to fight. Which is why even the fastest armored division is utterly helpless if the other side has free use of the skies.
When you hear of "massive formations of Iraqi armor", what you should immediately do is translate that into "giant defenseless targets". For a deeper understanding of air superiority than you'll get from the news, go read the whole thing.
ELECTION 2004: In case anyone is interested in information about the 2004 presidential election, I recommend heading over to Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball. It's a good source of information and analysis, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in the months leading up to November, 2002. He was incorrect in his prediction that the Senate would remain in Democrat hands (as was just about everyone else), but most of the rest of his predictions held up. In any event, there is more data there than I've yet to find anywhere else for an election that is so far away.
Obviously, there is also info about other national elections and gubernatorial races as well. Heaven, for a political junky like myself.
CLUSTER BOMBS: The term "cluster bomb" is generally used to refer to a bomb that contains submunitions. When the bomb casing breaks open, the submunitions are released and scattered, and each of them performs as another seperate weapon. Some submunitions are designed to be used as mines, some are anti-tank or anti-personel, some are even anti-submarine. The CBU-97/CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon with BLU-108/B Submunition is one of my favorites, because each of its 10 submunitions carries 4 more hockey puck-shaped sub-submunitions, and each of these hockey pucks can take out a tank.
The Sensor Fuzed Weapon [SFW] is an unpowered, top attack, wide area, cluster munition, designed to achieve multiple kills per aircraft pass against enemy armor and support vehicles. After release, the TMD opens and dispenses the ten submunitions which are parachute stabilized. Each of the 10 BLU-108/B submunitions contains four armor-penetrating projectiles with infrared sensors to detect armored targets. At a preset altitude sensed by a radar altimeter, a rocket motor fires to spin the submunition and initiate an ascent. The submunition then releases its four projectiles, which are lofted over the target area. The projectile's sensor detects a vehicle's infrared signature, and an explosively formed penetrator fires at the heat source. If no target is detected after a period of time, the projectiles automatically fire after a preset time interval, causing damage to material and personnel.
Since each hockey puck can individually target an enemy tank, up to 40 tanks can be destroyed by a single CBU-97. In practice, some submunitions will end up targeting the same tank, and it's unlikely that there will be 40 tanks positioned properly in any event... but it's the thought that counts! A tank's armor is thinnest on the top, and so it only takes a modest explosive to penetrate and disable the vehicle from a high angle.
There are pictures at the link I gave you above, but at least check this one out. That's an image of one of the hockey pucks firing directly into the engine block of a tank.
Clayton Cramer writes that Pvt. Jessica Lynch is proof that women can be very effective soldiers, and I have no doubt that that's the case. However, I still believe that keeping women out of direct combat positions is a luxury that we, as a country, can afford. Call me chauvenistic or sexist if you want, but on this matter I'm proud to be.
Aggressive outreach to find quality minority candidates is important, but pushing minority candidates into schools they're not ready for doesn't do them or the school any favors. Ultimately, the damage a poor education does to a kid in the lower grades can't be remedied by diversity intervention in his or her teenage years. That's why school-choice programs that provide real alternatives to help students in failing public schools may be the best and most effective affirmative action around.
I think he's exactly right. The solution to the problem of minority students not being accepted into colleges isn't to lower the standards, but rather to seek to improve the students. One of the best ways to do that is to allow parents and students to choose the location of their primary and secondary education. Vouchers are one (tiny) step in this direction.
Competition fosters improvement, and if schools are made to compete for students and funding then (and only then) will they begin to change. As it stands, our public education system is nearly communist in structure. There are no incentives that encourage schools and teachers to perform excellently, and no punishment for schools and teachers that fail to perform. Consequently, the entire system suffers from endemic mediocrity and sloth, both of which are most pronounced in minority-dominated areas.
POST-WAR IRAQ, WHAT'S THE GOAL?: Following up on my last post (here in the lab at UCLA, in between classes), I can see a few important things that the US needs to accomplish with our handling of Iraq once the fighting has cooled.
1. Improve the quality of life for ordinary Iraqis as quickly as possible. This is important because people with jobs, homes, running water, etc. will have little incentive to act up. It's important that the Iraqi people realize that their lot in life has just improved dramatically. They won't have to live in fear of Saddam's henchmen, and there will be real freedom. This will buy us time and influence to allow us to take care of some other business, and it will also build American credibility among the "Arab street" that's always calling for our blood.
2. Punish France and Germany (and Turkey). There must be serious consequences for betraying the US, and we have to make sure that our [diplomatic] adversaries reap the whirlwind that they have sown. Block France and Germany (and Belgium, to the extent that they matter) from every economic program we set up in Iraq, especially as it relates to oil. Russia should get a slap on the wrist as well, but in my mind they have offended us less, and they have more to offer us in the future. France and Germany should suffer economically for crossing us, and it should be obvious to their populations that their suffering is a direct result of opposing the United States.
3. Establish permanent military bases in Iraq, such as was done in Germany and Japan after WW2. We need large and unrestricted military power in the region if we intend to intimidate the rest of the Arab world and force them into the 21st century, and we need to take advantage of our presence in Iraq to get a foothold. This is one of the most important reasons why the UN must not be allowed to take over "peacekeeping" without US/UK supervision. The "peacekeeping" cover/excuse will be nice to have as justification for keeping our forces embedded in the country.
4. Once the above three goals are being met, we will have gained significant ground in the War on Terror. Don't forget, Iraq is just a battle within a larger conflict. Military control over Iraqi territory and oil will allow us to force the Saudis' hand, and will give encouragement to the people of Iran in their low-level revolution. Once those two bastions of oppression and traditionalism fall the forces of Islamofascist terror will fade into background noise.
POST-WAR IRAQ: Typically, the Bush administration has used Powell and Rumsfeld to good-cop-bad-cop the world and manipulate the diplomatic situation into the form that Bush ultimately wants. Normally, it's Powell playing the multilateral, politically correct good cop, and Rumsfeld/Cheney/Rice/Pearle playing the hardline, rabid dog bad cop. The two parties publically issue mildly conflicting messages, and then in the end Bush comes down somewhere in between them. The liberals who tend to like Powell's initial position better end up a little disappointed, and the conservatives who are closer to Rumsfeld's position are disappointed too, but in the end they both feel as if there's been a compromise. In reality Bush ends up taking the exact position he wants.
So the liberals in America and the appeasers all over the world should be distressed to see Powell's initial position on UN involvement in post-war Iraq:
Secretary of State Colin Powell told Washington's European allies and friends Thursday the United States - not the United Nations - must have the lead role in Iraq's postwar reconstruction.
In a fast-paced series of meetings with his NATO and European Union counterparts at the NATO headquarters here, Powell did not resolve differences over the nature of the U.N role after the fighting is done in Iraq.
"I think the coalition has to play the leading role," he told a closing news conference. "But that does not mean we have to shut others out. There will definitely be a United Nations role, but what the exact nature of that role will be remains to be seen."
Of course, the Europeans are yipping like puppies:
"We must stabilize Iraq and the region," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. "The United Nations is the only international organization that can give legitimacy to this." ...
"I don't see how we could contribute to the reconstruction without the United Nations playing the key role," said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel. ...
French President Jacques Chirac has opposed giving Britain and the United States a dominant role in rebuilding Iraq, arguing that would legitimize the war. ...
Powell played down the differences, calling his meetings consultative. "I'll report back (to President Bush) what I heard. We are still examining the proper role for the United Nations."
I changed the order of the above quotes to put Powell's at the end because it's diplospeak for "when we want your opinion, we'll ask for it; now be quiet, the grown-ups are talking".
Via The Diablogger I am directed to a poem by Francis Thompson titled "The Hound of Heaven". I'm such a wuss, it almost makes me cry. It's amazing to me how many beautiful things there are in the world that I'll never see, and never even know about. It pains me, and when I read a poem like this I feel my ignorance acutely.
ECONOMIST PREDICTS BLAH BLAH BLAH: This CNN article says that Morgan Stanley's chief economist in the United States, Stephen Roach, is predicting a worldwide recession due to... super-pneumonia. Oh, and wars and stuff. So far, SARS has accounted for SEVENTY-EIGHT deaths out of the 2,223 confirmed cases, a fatality rate of 3.5%. Not exactly scary, especially when you take into account the fact that most of those fatalities occurred in third-world countries, and that there are probably a great many more people infected who don't even get sick enough to go to the hospital, and thus aren't represented in the total count.
As for wars... well there are always wars going on somewhere. Welcome to planet earth, enjoy your stay. My prediction is that the incremental removal of brutal, oppressive regimes will lead to a global economic boom. I'm not "one of Wall Street's leading economists", but I play one on TV, and I know of at least one Arab country whose prospects are sure looking up.
Interesting how during the recent actual recession, all the economists were telling us not to worry, and to keep buying. Go figure that one out.
FASCISM AND COMMUNISM: Mean Mr. Mustard has a nifty series of posts relating to a political science course he's taking at UC Berkeley. Here is a link to the conclusion, which has a set link to earlier posts. I can't explain their whole contents of course, but the lectures are related to fascism and communism, both of which the professor obviously dislikes. Here's an interesting excerpt of a quote by the professor, A. James Gregor:
North Korea is really a fascinating, bizarre place. If you ever get the chance, I strongly suggest that you go. The last time I was there was about 10 years ago, and this was when Kim Il Sung was still alive, and I was walking through Pyongyang (because of course they only let you visit certain areas; can't let let any Westerners see the starving masses of the countryside). Now, I had just come from China, and all through China, even in a lot of rural areas, you see millions of people with glasses on, because of course they can't afford contact lenses. But eyeglasses are ubiquitous.
And after not too long, I noticed that no one in Pyongyang was wearing glasses, so, with my "interpreter" (the guy that was there to watch me), I asked someone on the street why they didn't have any glasses. His exact words were "I don't need them."
"You don't need them?" I asked, just a tad suspicious, since in China it looked like half the population popped out of the womb with glasses on.
And I'll never forget what he said to me next, "Kim Il Sung takes care of us, so we don't need them."
Another thing I didn't see in Pyongyang: old people. I didn't see a single person that looked older than 45 in the city. Know why? Kim didn't like the way they made the city look, so he had all the old people carted off to areas on the outskirts of the cities.
And don't get me started on bicycles! Go to any asian city in the world and you'll see thousands of bicycles crowding the streets. There was not a single bicycle in all of Pyongyang, at least not one I could see. Kim thought it made the city look too third-worldish, so he banned anyone from using them and made everyone walk everywhere!
I tell you, the whole place is constructed to portray a fantasy. It's like a perverted, ramshackle Disneyland.
ALTRUISM: Dictionary.com defines altruism as: "Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness." I don't believe that altruism in the classic sense can exist, because for every action taken one of the following is true:
1. The actor made a decision to take action.
2. The actor is irrational and does not make decisions, or the action was otherwise not the result of choice (it was an accicent, perhaps).
If (1) is true, then the actor will, at the very least, receive emotional satisfaction for taking an action that benefits himself or others, aside from any material benefit that he may realize. The actor may also be counting on future reward from God, or may simply derive pleasure from doing what is right. If (2), then altruism is not present because no decision is actually being made, and the action (to the extent that it can even be considered an action) is merely the result of chaotic physical forces.
Actions taken to benefit one's group can be considered a form of localized altruism, but such a concept rests on the existence of external competitive forces that exist between the actor's group and other groups (human or otherwise).
More later, perhaps.
ARMY UNITS: Philippe de Croy has a post about different types of military units, and I thought I'd provide a link for more information. The Federation of American Scientists has a great military section, and this page gives a break down of the various levels of army units. Of particular interest is the page about divisions, since they are the main level of self-sustaining operational unit deployed into any theater.
“You took her to a haunted house?” I said.
Gnat insisted on it, my wife said. The Big Kids were going, and she wanted to go with the Big Kids. "And if the other mothers were throwing their kids off the cliff," I huffed, "would you -"
"It was a children’s haunted house."
Oh, great. Gummi intestines, spilled from Hello Kitty’s torn abdomen? But no. It was all quite mild. Gnat was a bit nervous, but thrilled, and it made an impression on her. I don’t want to tell her she has a skeleton inside her, though; she’d never go to sleep.
Hell, that freaks ME out.
BECAUSE SHE'S AN AMERICAN: It fills me with pride to read accounts of Pvt. Jessica Lynch's rescue from an Iraqi hospital/military headquarters. I'm certain that the minute it was discovered that she and the other members of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company were captured the order was given from high up: find them and bring them home. Why? She's just a 19 year old girl from West Virginia. Because she's an American.
That's the difference between America and Iraq. Saddam and his goons throw civilians into the line of fire, they take families hostage and force their fathers to fight or blow themselves up, they gas their own people, rape and torture any who dissent, and gladly sacrifice hundreds and thousands of lives to keep themselves in power.
I'm going to start a new paragraph because I don't want to talk about Americans right next to that filth. We Americans spend millions of dollars and risk dozens -- if not hundreds -- of lives to find our own and to bring them back safely. The CIA found Pvt. Lynch, and Special Ops flew in from another country to rescue her. Meanwhile, a large force of Marines with tanks and APCs led a distraction operation to capture a key bridge inside the city. All to rescue Jessica Lynch and anyone else from the 507th who might have been held prisoner with her.
Remember little things like this the next time you see a Saddam apologist waving a sign that tries to make America into the villain.
I just wanted to point you to an earlier post about women in combat.
POST-WAR IRAQ, STRAW OUT OF THE LOOP?: This Times Online article has some quotes by Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, about the rebuilding if Iraq and potential future military campaigns. I don't think that it's likely that the US will desire military action against Syria or Iran, and so I take no issue with his statements on that issue, but I think that Mr. Straw may be out of the loop when it comes to the plans for rebuilding Iraq.
Mr Straw also insisted that the United Nations would have a key role in a post-war Iraq and that Iraqis, not foreigners, would run a new government.
He said: "What we have agreed with the United States is that the post-conflict arrangements should be endorsed by the UN.
"They have got to be acceptable to the UN, and what we will be seeking is a representative government, an interim Iraqi authority, moving to a more representative government which is drawn from the Iraqi people.
"There could be advisers from other countries but there will not be foreign nationals running the Iraqi government, that is not the purpose of this action."
I have a feeling that the US won't be quite so eager to pander to the UN, and I think that it has already been decided by the US that we will indeed run the Iraqi government for a while at least. Maybe Mr. Straw is referring to some later time, but it seems virtually certain that the Iraqi government will be run by Americans for the foreseeable future.
SADDAM IS DEAD: I've said it before, and everyone knows it: Saddam is dead. Iraqi TV had promised us that Saddam himself would address the world at 8pm local time (9am PST), but of course he didn't show up. Instead, the Iraqi Information Minister read a statement on his behalf calling for jihad against American and Britain. Whether he's alive or not (he's not), the use of "jihad" language is further evidence that he's in bed with Islamofacist terrorists.
WHAT IF WE HAD GOTTEN THE UN ON OUR SIDE?: This is the question that Eugene Volokh asks over at the Conspiracy. His analysis largely makes sense, and the only issue that I have with it is that I believe that even if France, Germany, et al had been bribed or coerced into joining our coalition, they would have worked at every opportunity to resist us and to thwart our objectives. Even if they had joined in name, they would not have joined in good faith, and this is the essential element of his analysis.
In my opinion, we would have risked a great deal in allowing France and Germany into the coalition, and we had little to gain. The most that the UN had to offer us was "legitimacy" among our own people, and as recent polls have shown (for what they're worth) coalition countries already approve of Bush and Blair's actions. What other countries think isn't nearly as important, because none of the other countries can really stop us, and it's not like anti-Americanism just came into fashion September 11th, 2001. Even if the attack was UN-sanctioned, most other countries would have recognized that the UN was merely acting as an American puppet.
It seems very unlikely that UN approval would have had significant benefits, even if France and Germany had joined us in good faith. Saddam's loyalists are fighting because they know that they will be killed and/or stripped of their livelyhood if they lose. French involvement would not have saved the lives of many (if any) Iraqi civilians, because the vast majority of Iraqi civilian casualties are the direct result of Iraqi military/paramilitary actions.
The only potential benefit that I can see would be if French soldiers were able to instruct the Iraqis on how to surrender more effectively.
AMERICAN MEDIA: Geraldo Rivera is voluntarily leaving Iraq rather than being expelled by the military for revealing operational details that could have resulted in soldiers being killed. Yeah right, nice sophistry.
What a proud time for American journalism.
MODERN RACISM: Iraq's Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf, has been watching American TV or something, because he has discovered the one issue that trumps all others in American politics:
Referring to Monday's fatal shootings by U.S. soldiers of at least seven women and children at a checkpoint in southern Iraq, Sahaf said "all those who do such acts are definitely racist."
The soldiers fired on the van carrying the Iraqis when it failed to stop after repeated warnings,the coalition's Central Command said Monday.
He forgets to mention, of course, that the families of these women were held hostage by Iraqi forces, and the driver was told that if she slowed down or stopped her family would be killed.
NO WAR UNDER GORE: On CNSNews I read an article wherein New Zealand's prime minister says that there would be no war in Iraq if Al Gore were president. Well duh. Just one more reason to be grateful that Al Gore lost.
Apparently Helen Clark, the Kiwi PM, has been making all sorts of anti-American noise recently, and her political opposition is trying to take advantage of her break from Australia, Britain, and the US -- traditionally New Zealand's closest allies. The leader of the opposition party, Bill English, also objects to statements made by the government in the UN.
English also took the government to task for a statement it made to the U.N. during a debate last week on the war.
New Zealand envoy Don MacKay's statement to the world body focused on meeting Iraqis' future humanitarian needs, but also referred to "the loss of life on both sides" and the need for "all parties" to adhere to the Geneva Conventions.
Speaking in parliament, English called the statement "a disgrace," saying it failed to express support for the coalition forces and seemed to make no distinction between the two sides in the war.
But of course...
Clark has shrugged off the criticism, denying that her government's stance would have negative repercussions in the future.
She said it was childish to suggest that those who oppose the war on a matter of principle were anti-American.
On her comments about Gore, Clark said it wasn't a novel suggestion that "things may have been different with a different president. Who knows? Really, it's neither here nor there."
Clark also suggested that the U.S. wouldn't be especially concerned about her government's stance, saying New Zealand was "the merest blip on the furthest horizon on a radar screen" in Washington.
That's the spirit! Come on people of the world: wake up! Things aren't the same as they were on September 10th, 2001. When you take every opportunity to stick your thumb in our eye, you'd better realize that it will indeed have negative repercussions in the future.
THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: I don't know why I always dread the first day of school. I mean, I've been going to school for something like 20 years, so I should pretty well know that nothing bad is going to happen. My teacher will probably be nice, and the other kids won't make fun of me, at least not on the first day. Especially since I'm in grad school now. That's the thing with college... before you get there you've only got one first day of school per year. Once you start college, on the quarter system no less, you get at least three first days of school, and maybe more.
I should be excited. I get to leave work for a few hours and go learn something I'm interested in. Traffic won't be bad like it was last quarter because of the time my class is at. I'll get to meet some new people, some of whom are sure to be nice and interesting to talk to. All-in-all, it seems like a promising prospect -- on paper. In reality, I hate change; what can I say? I was sad when my last classes ended because I enjoyed them, and I'm sure I'll be sad when my new class ends. So why aren't I more excited that it's starting?
Who knows. By next week I'll be into the routine and everything will be fine.
I just checked my grades from last quarter, and I got a B in my psychology class. Geesh, that's lame.