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Friday, December 31, 2004

Lords of the Rhymes

|Lords of the Rhymes| heh

Criticism of Drum on Social Security

Victory at The Dead Parrot Society (bonus points for a Monty Python reference in your blog title) has posted a good critique of the Kevin Drum analysis on Social Security I blogged on a couple of days ago. Here are a couple of his criticisms, but I suggest you read the whole thing:

Drum conveniently ignores the fact that while the Trust Fund solvency date has shifted, the overall actuarial balance has not improved substantially (aside from improvements related to benefit cuts). The reason for this is clear: there is a fundamental long-term imbalance. You can make mild improvements to the system and even push back the TF exhaustion date a bit. But as time marches forward, we are adding years to the 75-year horizon that are terribly out of balance, preventing a serious improvement in system solvency. You can see this in the year to year reconciliation that the actuaries produce: every year the deficit gets worse by about .07% simply because time has marched forward while the problems have remained unaddressed. Drum also asserts that expected GDP growth this year of 3.9% is 'average', and blindly compares that to the ultimate GDP growth rate of the actuaries. Such a comparison conveniently ignores the fact that the labor force is expanding at an unsustainably rapidly pace. When that trend reverses, a GDP growth rate of 3.9% will hardly be 'average'. The optimistic Robert Gordon himself argues that GDP will average only 3.28% over the next 20 years, well under Drum's declared 'average', making Drum's choice of reference misleading, unwise, and rather self-contradictory.
The truth is of course we don't really know. How the economy and technology that drives it will resolve in the future is a big big unknown and predictions of five years away, let alone 20 or more years are almost certain to be hugely wrong. One thing that is obvious though, at least to me, is that this fact does show a weakness in Social Security as it is presently constituted, which a private account system would address. If what you pay in is earmarked for you, rather than spent on current beneficiaries as the current system is, regardless of what the economy does you will at least get back what you put in. You don't have to assume or trust that the future payees will be willing and able to 'pay you back' for the benefit you have given to others. Now obviously this doesn't address the income redistribution aspects of Social Security that are so beloved be the left (although I remain mystified as to why in this particular instance) but it does solve the difficulty of predicting problem. Secondly, it seems to me that connecting benefit payouts to the performance of the markets (via investment) would help to cushion against any form of macro-economic adjustments. Now obviously this doesn't address are current commitment to existing retirees and people who are near to retirement. That problem is of course what got us into this mess originally. As cube has pointed out in the comments on a couple of these posts, Social Security was created in response to an existing need to support old people whose savings was wiped out by the great depression. It was sold to younger voters as a trade, you pay for them and someone else will pay for you. Fair enough I suppose. However, it is fair to remember that it was instituted at a time of pretty extreme population growth and an even greater extreme degree of worker growth (as women were entering the workforce.) These two metrics have stagnated and to some degree reversed themselves, leading to the crux of our current problem (or potential problem if you like.) I don't know that their is any easy answer. There may not be any good answer. I do have some frustration with those who are unwilling to even explore the possibility of a different method for doing things.



The death toll in Acheh, the region worst hit by last Sunday's tsunami, may exceed 400,000 as many affected areas could still not be reached for search and rescue operations, Indonesia's Ambassador to Malaysia Drs H. Rusdihardjo said Thursday. He said the estimate was based on air surveillance by Indonesian authorities who found no signs of life in places like Meulaboh, Pulau Simeulue and Tapak Tuan while several islands off the west coast of Sumatera had 'disappeared'. He said the latest death toll of more than 40,000 in Acheh and northern Sumatera did not take into account the figures from the other areas, especially in the west of the region. 'Aerial surveillance found the town of Meulaboh completely destroyed with only one buiding standing. The building, which belonged to the military, happens to be on a hill,' he told reporters after receiving RM1 million in aid for Indonesia's Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund here Thursday. Rusdihardjo said there were about 150,000 residents in Meulaboh, which was located 150km from the epicentre of the earthquake while Pulau Simeuleu had a population of 76,000.
I hope that this Ambassador is mistaken, although regardless this tradgedy is too terrible to fully comprehend. Once again, please give if you can. (hat tip: Command Post)

Thursday, December 30, 2004


This robot is way cool. Still, watching it run is just a little creepy...

More on Social Security

In my last post on social security Honest Partisan entered a post by Matthew Yglesias. I believe that the relevant part which he was referring to is this:

What I really don't know how you do in a sound-bite, but which is also important, is something that gets to the difference between social insurance and a retirement plan. Social Security is a social insurance plan that insures working people against disability, death of a breadwinner, or some combination of longetivity and low earnings that would make retirement with dignity impossible. Private account schemes simply don't do this. Most proposals would leave a disability insurance program in place, but completely eliminate the longetivity/low earnings insurance. People who earn little will have little in the way of an account balance, and people who live longer will simply have to stretch their money further. Talk of average returns and so forth obscures all this. The whole point of social insurance is to compress the range of outcomes, reducing downside risk through methods that limit upside gains. Moving the mean point around isn't the point. On average, fire insurance is a bad idea, since very few people's homes actually burn down. This is the only way for companies to make a profit selling the stuff. People don't buy fire insurance to maximize their expected financial outcome, they do it because avoiding the possibility of catastrophic loss is worth something to people. For fires, private insurance works well enough so we don't have social insurance. Hedging against longevity on the private market, however, will be extremely difficult thanks to adverse selection. Hence social insurance, which Bush wants to eliminate.
First off, I agree that we need to support poor people who can't work. I don't know that Social Security is a very good method of doing this however. First off, I would prefer this money to come from an income tax rather than a payroll tax. I regard the Social Security payroll tax as being an extremely regressive tax and can find no justification for it's structure. Regardless of this though, I think we can agree that the core of the social security debate is over how a person's retirement years should be financed, not how to help the disabled. Yglesias says that hedging against longevity on the private market is extremely difficult. I find that argument to be fairly weak, as life insurance companies do that all the time and are fairly successful. A great number of people participate in such programs and they have mechanisms to deal with adverse selection. Life Insurance (more properly death insurance) would seem to be exactly like longevity insurance, except hedging against the reverse. Yglesias does have a very good point about insurance in general however. It is not a way to achieve maximum financial value, it is a way to avoid maximum risk. It is important to remember that you cannot insure against a certainty and much of Social Security is an attempt to do just that. This TCS Article about Health insurance explains better what I am talking about here. A lot of what he talks about obviously applies to Social Security as well. Essencially though, unless I am misreading Yglesias is what he likes about Social Security is that it is a means of wealth redistribution. I agree that it is. However, unlike some wealth redistribution schemes which take money from the rich and give to the poor (which I have my problems with, although I can see some merit in some of them) this particular scheme takes money from workers and gives to retirees. Yes, some workers are rich, and some retirees are poor, but the opposite is true as well. In this regard, I fail to see how any liberal could like Social Security as it is currently constructed. Now, I will agree that as a corrollary to my first point (we won't let poor people starve) it does seem that we have a public interest in ensuring that people plan for their retirement. Social Security as it is presently constituted however doesn't seem like a very good vehicle for that. Now, this doesn't mean that the Bush reforms are a good idea, but it does seem like a discussion over what should be done, and a willingness to do something seems to be in order.

U.S. Role in Palestinian Peace

The New York Times > Opinion > Warren Christopher has penned on Op-Ed discussing how the U.S. can help toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. This suggestion is interesting:

The second, preferable, option would be the appointment by the president of a high-ranking United States emissary to the Middle East. Ms. Rice's famous closeness to the President should obviate any risk that the appointment would diminish her authority. The envoy should be someone who would immediately be recognized as speaking for the president - like former Secretary of State James A. Baker or John C. Danforth, the departing envoy to the United Nations. It should also be someone who is ready for a full-time assignment. This person must be prepared to establish a base of operations in the Middle East and to stay there for substantial periods of time. Patience and persistence, not parachute visits or photo ops, should be the modus operandi.
I am skeptical however that a diplomat alone can solve this issue. Certainly if both sides want peace, diplomacy can help settle the niggling issues that stand in the way. If one or the other side does not desire peace however diplomacy (other than perhaps gunboat diplomacy) seems unlikely to have any meaningful effect. Warren Christopher should know that better than anyone. The Palestinian elections coming up will probably tell us a lot about the chance for peace in that region. This is a good idea, and if a moderate wins power in Palestine (which may mean more than just winning an election) then this idea has merit, but it certainly doesn't seem to me to be any grand key for peace in the region, and it would be premature to announce such a plan before the elections in any event. Arafat's death is an opportunity for peace. The Palestinian will have to choose peace though. It might also help if the people that uncritically claimed that a murderer was a statesman made it clear to the Palestinian people that they now realize their mistake and will not repeat it. Sadly, since I do not think those people do realize their mistake such an announcement is not likely to be forthcoming.

Beautiful, but full of pain

Peggy Noonan's column is, as always, well worth reading. This bit is especially touching to me:

Of all the things I've heard said of the great horror, nothing seemed to me to sum it up as well as a woman chatting with a man as he cut her hair in New York. The TV was on, CNN. They stopped and watched the latest video of surging waves crashing through a hotel. The man sighed and shook his head. 'Life is terrible,' he said. The woman said, 'Oh it's beautiful, beautiful, but full of pain.'
I don't know if it can be said any better than that.

Bush 'Undermining UN with Aid Coalition'?


United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster. The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world's response.
Certainly I hope our President isn't trying to undermine the U.N. After all, they are doing just fine with that on their own and it would be a waste of time for him to devote any energy to that whatsoever. I expect that the President actually wants to see the devastated people of South-East Asia get some help (I know, this is heresy, I forgot for a moment that he is the evil chimp overlord who wants to push grannies downstairs.) This bit of the article is quite humorous:
"Only really the UN can do that job," she told BBC Radio Four's PM programme. "It is the only body that has the moral authority. But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers."
Now, leaving aside the highly questionable moral authority of the U.N., since when does it take a huge amount of moral authority to justify helping people that have been hit by a natural disaster?

2004: The Good News

Radley Balko has a column up about some very positive trends in the world. Things are getting better and that is something to be thankful for. (via Instapundit)

They have "LASERS"

Yahoo! News:

Authorities are investigating a mysterious laser beam that was directed into the cockpit of a commercial jet traveling at more than 8,500 feet. The beam appeared Monday when the plane was about 15 miles from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the FBI (news - web sites) said. 'It was in there for several seconds like (the plane) was being tracked,' FBI agent Robert Hawk said. The pilot was able to land the plane, and air traffic controllers used radar to determine the laser came from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.
Interesting. How though, do you use radar to determine where a laser came from?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Stop Sweating Social Security -- the End Is Not Near

Kevin Drum has an interesting article on social security and makes some pretty strong claims that it is not a crises:

The answer is all in the numbers. For instance, the future of Social Security is highly sensitive to predictions of economic growth, and the trustees assume a very conservative growth rate of 1.8% per year. That compares with expected growth of 3.9% this year, a fairly average year for the U.S. economy. Another example: Because young people are the ones who support the system, Social Security projections are also sensitive to immigration rates. Immigrants tend to be young, so the more immigrants, the stronger the system. But despite the fact that immigration to the U.S. has been steadily increasing for more than half a century, the trustees assume not just that it will stop growing - itself a conservative estimate - but that it will actually decline. What this means is that every few years, as reality outpaces the previous year's predictions, the trustees move the insolvency date forward. What's more, there's every reason to think they're still making the same mistake. Robert Gordon, a respected economist at Northwestern University, recently took a fresh look at long-term economic trends. His conclusion? The trustees are continuing to be far more pessimistic than the evidence warrants. His projections, based on recent increases in national productivity as well as more reasonable estimates of immigration, show an economic growth rate for the next two decades that's nearly a percentage point per year higher than the trustees' projections. If you plug Gordon's more realistic numbers into the model that the trustees use to project the health of Social Security, it turns out that the program is solvent for the rest of the century. In other words, Social Security needs no changes at all. Everyone alive today, young and old, will be covered in full when they retire.
I have seen before the argument that we are in a race, between rising entitlement cost and rising productivity. This seems to be a restatement of that idea, with the handicapping going toward rising productivity. I am somewhat optimistic about this myself, although personally I am more concerned about 2018, when the yearly input to social security is projected to fall below the yearly output. Since we are currently spending the excess money on other things, unless things change between now and then this will entail either a dramatic reduction in government spending or a pretty dramatic increase in taxes. Either of these things can negatively impact productivity and if they impact it enough, and in a negative enough way, they might derail this rosy picture Drum is presenting. Perhaps more puzzling to me is why Liberals like Social Security in the first place. It is funded by a regressive tax structure. It represents not a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, rather it is more frequently a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Yes, some of it's recipients are needy, but many others are comfortable, in some cases extremely so. So what is to like about it, from a liberal point of view? And why viscerally oppose any change to the current system?

Iraq 2004 Looks Like Vietnam 1966?

This Slate article seems a little weird to me:

But a comparative analysis of U.S. casualty statistics from Iraq tells a different story. After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966-and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.
Perhaps I am stupid, but my reading of this is that except for the ways in which this combat is different it is exactly the same. Duh. The conclusion is puzzling as well:
Critics of the war may use this analysis as one more piece of ammunition to attack the effort; some supporters may continue to refer to casualties as "light," noting that typically tens of thousands of Americans must die in war before domestic support crumbles. Both miss the point. The casualty statistics make clear that our nation is involved in a war whose intensity on the ground matches that of previous American wars. Indeed, the proportional burden on the infantryman is at its highest level since World War I. With next year's budget soon to be drafted, it is time for Washington to finally address their needs accordingly.
I am not sure what they are proposing here, except that we should meet the troops needs (again Duh) as to what those needs should be, in light of their supposedly shocking revelations, I remain confused.

Blogroll update

I've added a few new sites to my blogroll, and, sadly, have removed Vestigial Fish who seems to have disappeared from the blogosphere. Check out the new additions, and the old ones if you haven't already.

Rumsfeld from a soldier's perspective

Here is a touching first hand account of a wounded soldier's interaction with Donald Rumsfeld:

Well, the timing worked out well, because I was taking my patient to the recovery room when we wheeled the stretcher through a mob of dignitaries, to include 3 and 4 star generals. I knew the Secretary was nearby, and it turns out he was in the ICU. The patient drew enough attention because of his bruised, banged up face that the 4 star came over to get his story from the surgeon. I was doing some charting by the bedside when Mr. Rumsfeld came over and heard the kid's story from the 4-star. Rumsfeld looked concerned and kind of kept his distance from the gruesome site. He said something like 'bless his heart', as if talking around him. That is when I, without any thought, piped in with 'Sir, you can talk to him, he's awake.' He told the soldier, named Rob, how proud he was of his service. The soldier was in a bit of disbelief, because he couldn't see with one eye patched and the other swollen shut. He said he wanted to talk to Rumsfeld. That's when I said 'He's standing right to your left, Rob, that's his voice you hear. You can talk to him.' The kid was nervous at that point, but sputtered out how honored he was to talk to him. Mr. Rumsfeld replied, 'No, it's an honor for me to talk to you.' Then remarkably, the young soldier, who had just lost his left hand and right eye from an explosion, came to the defense of the Secretary of Defense, stating 'Mr. Rumsfeld, I want you to know, that you are doing a fantastic job. I know that you are taking a lot of heat for the problems with getting armor for vehicles. I want you to know that things are vastly improved. Our vehicles are great, and I have never searched through junk piles for scrap metal.'
It is hard to sift through media reports to get a true picture of how well (or poorly) Donald Rumsfeld is doing as defense secretary. Obviously he has many critics. My gut tells me that history will in fact record him as a great leader.

Dave Barry's Year in Review

Dave Barry is as funny as ever. While I won't do a full fledged year in review thing myself, this was a pretty good year for me. Hope you found it the same and that the next year is even better.

Iranian Bloggers tortured

Check out this post by Jeff Jarvis on Iranian bloggers being tortured. (via Instapundit)

A magnanimous essay on Susan Sontag

From Redstate no less. Well worth reading.

Want to feel old?

Bill at Reason's Edge has linked to an article of kids reactions to some of the great video games of yesteryear. Brittle Truckers indeed.

Help out if you can

Lileks shills for donations for the tsumani victims as only he can:

I tossed some money to the American Red Cross tonight (Amazon makes it very easy) and did so with a small amount of self-disgust. At least now I know the death toll that gets me to open up the wallet. From now on my guidelines will be "earlier" and "more." It's not for the dead we send the money, of course - it's for those whose lives have been scoured down to the bone, but you can't help but think that your contribution somehow mitigates the awful numbers. It doesn't. And if your money makes its way to a small village, and ends up as a box of clean underwear and toothpaste and batteries and aspirin dropped in the lap of a man who watched his entire family scraped off the face of the earth and swallowed by the brutal, implacable and mindless hand of nature, well, know that it probably won't make much difference. It can't. But someone has to get him clean underwear and aspirin. You there, with the drawers full of Jockeys and Bayer: cough up.
If you have some extra, this is certainly a worthy cause. The devastation is truely horrific. You can donate to the Red Cross here.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Millennium War

Austin Bay has written an article well worth reading. The whole thing is great, but this bit is especially interesting:

In September 2001, I suggested we call this hideous conflict the Millennium War, a nom de guerre that captures both the chronological era and the ideological dimensions of the conflict. If there is one mistake we've made in fighting this war, it's the way we've soft-pedaled the ideological dimensions, and that soft-pedaling has blurred our goals. This really is a fight for the future, a battle between our free, open political system and the unholy alliance of despots and millenarian Islamofascists whose very existence depends on denying liberty. Recognizing the ideological component as an essential feature of the war indicates the most desirable End State to the war would have two features: (1) democratic nations that police terrorism, instead of promoting it or seeding it; (2) an Islamic clerisy that understands its role on Earth is spiritual guidance and education, not temporal political control. A large order? The task is absolutely huge, but so was World War II, when heavy history fell on 'the greatest generation.' It's this generation's turn to accept the challenge of building free nation states and protecting Muslim moderates, or we will face terrible destructive consequences.
I agree that the Bush administration has failed to fully define the conflict we face, as well as whose side we are on. I believe firmly that we are on the side of the people of Iraq, and Afghanistan. We are on the side of the people of Iran and Saudi Arabia and Syria as well. The enemy is a variety of tyrants with a broad array of ideologies to hide behind. In the end, they have one philosophy however, the barrel of a gun. Yes they are vicious. Yes they are motivated. No, they will not win. We have beaten worse bad guys and we will beat them as well.


Daniel Drezner has some comments about the earthquake and tsunami in southeast asia, along with links of how you can help. I have nothing in particular to add, except for my sympathy for the victims.

In the Media

Clifford D. May offers some useful perspective on the war in Iraq:

Instead, the goal of terrorists is simply to slaughter and, of course, terrorize. By so doing, they mean to destroy our will to fight. Lose the will to fight and, by definition, you have been defeated -no matter how high-tech your weaponry, no matter how many troops you have riding in armored Humvees. ... The enemy in Iraq is brutal, ruthless and, yes, evil. There's no other word for people who murder civilians organizing elections, bomb churches and mosques, and saw the heads off innocents while screaming slogans and making home videos. But they are not stupid. They know that every time they stage a massacre, millions of people get angry – not at them, but at Don Rumsfeld and President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and the “neo-cons.”
I have made this point myself before. A huge chunk of winning a war is simply not quitting.

Yushchenko Claims Victory

Washington Post:

'It happened,' said a jubilant Yushchenko, speaking in the capital at 2 a.m. Monday. 'For 14 years, we were independent, but now we are free. . . .
Congratulations to the people of Ukraine.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas Here's hoping that all my readers have a safe and happy holidays.

Done With Mirrors

Done With Mirrors talks about his 'conversion' to conservatism, or perhaps more truthfully his leaving of what today passes for liberalism. He has a lot of good reasons and good examples that are well worth reading. This bit, on the second ammendment is very interesting though. It presents the argument in a way I had not previously seen:

My commitment to freedom of speech was solid; anything this side of 'shouting fire in a crowded theater,' I endorsed. So, I set myself the task of devising an argument against the Second Amendment that wouldn't also involve, and constrict, the First. I couldn't do it, of course. They are of a piece. Would you say that the framers of the Bill of Rights never imagined the destructive power of modern weaponry? Then neither did they imagine the reach and scope of the modern media -- visual as well as printed, and all the more powerful for its pretense of unbias. Was their commitment to an armed citizenry based on an antiquated military model of a minuteman national army? Then so was their commitment to a free press based on a political system where newspapers served as the principle organs of party communications, something that hasn't been true in America since 1880 or so. You don't need an AK-47 to shoot a white-tail deer, but neither do you need to dunk a crucifix in a piss-pot to make art. Guns kill people -- when people use them for that purpose. So do words. Or were we never serious about that bit about the pen being mightier than the sword?
I am certainly not a gun nut. I don't even own a gun, and though I have shot several, I have never been a hunter. I am a strong supporter of the second ammendment though. The only form of government that could ever tollerate having such an ammendment is one that is truely considered legitimate by it's people.

Abuse scandals and troop strength

THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH has some comments on the prisoner abuse scandal:

I am ashamed, of course. And profoundly saddened. Part of the reason this is happening too often? Untrained personnel, likely confused kids really, are being tasked with interrogations. But interrogators need to be trained to perform their tasks consistent with relevant law, convention, norms. They also need to be coached on best practices by which to extract information--mock executions not among them. Again, our force mix and too few troops in theater have, not only rendered securing victory harder, but also contributed to scandals like these because we never dedicated the proper quantum and mix of resources to the tasks at hand. Will someone ever be held accountable in the broad reaches above Brig. General Karpinski of Abu Ghraib notoriety? Don't hold your breath. For Rummy, after all, accountability means, well, non-accountability (Except for assorted slaps on the wrist or jail time for some of the 'bad apples.' Many of them less guilty, if not vis-a-vis direct culpability, in terms of the piss-poor post-war assumptions that have led to the hoisting of large numbers of untrained personnel into difficult, unfamiliar situations. Situations that lend themselves to precisely the human rights abuses we are again hearing about now. Am I saying there is legal liability that resides directly with Rumsfeld via the chain of command? No, not necessarily. But there is certainly a more general failure of leadership and moral direction that is part and parcel of all of this. And in significant manner).
I agree with him totally on the basic cause of this scandal: soldiers who are not properly trained in interrogations, but I am not sure his root causes, i.e. not enough troops, have much to do with this problem. Would bringing in another 100,000 soldiers give us more, or less, trained personnel in interrogation, particularly in relation to the number of people who were detained? I suppose one can argue, as some have, that if we had more troops there from the beginning the violence would be markedly less and thus the need for interrogations would be reduced. I don't buy that argument. Iraq is a big place, with a large population, and in my opinion, more troops would simply mean more targets for the insurgents. Now if we want to talk about some specific jobs for these troops you might convince me. One area that we seem to have been pretty lax in is controlling Iraq's borders and keeping negative foreign influence out. Certainly I blame Iran and Syria for financing and coordinating a lot of the trouble that is in Iraq and better border control could go a long way to reduce this problem. I haven't though seen any estimates on what it would take to effectively seal the borders and certainly the drain on our armed forces might be more dangerous than the unsealed borders themselves. Of course the central point about more troops is that you can't just magically create them in an instant. It takes at least a couple of years, probably longer if we are talking about an increase large enough to support 100,000 extra personnel in Iraq indefinitely. The numbers we have stationed in Iraq currently are already stressing our military capacity, so an increase in deployments seems to be exactly the wrong strategy for a war were endurance will probably be the key to victory. Depending upon how long you think our deployment in Iraq will be needed, trying to increase the size of our military at this point might be useless. I am not convinced that it is needed either, as I think Iraq, for all its setbacks, is headed in generally the right direction. However, I do think that we need to increase our military nonetheless. Iraq (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) has taught us some things. Nation building is integral to the successful prosecution of a modern war. Our military as it is currently constituted seems ill equipped to handle such a task. I think, as I have stated before on this blog, we need a new branch of the military that focuses on nation building. They would be a force that inhabits the grey area between a soldier and a policeman. Their leaders would study the concepts of nation building as vigorously as our traditional military studies how to defeat armies. Yes this force would be expensive and take time to build. It is needed though in our modern world and the sooner we start to build it up, the sooner we will have it. It might require a tax increase to support and I, and I believe many others, who are opposed to tax increases in general would probably make an exception in this case (although I would prefer to cut some existing federal spending as well.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Latest on the Washington Governor Race

ABC News:

Washington state's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that more than 700 belatedly discovered ballots from Seattle's King County should be counted in the extraordinarily close governor's race potentially enough to tip the balance in favor of Democrat Christine Gregoire. King County is a Democratic stronghold, the biggest county in the state and the last to report results from the statewide hand recount that began Dec. 8. The ruling was a boost to the Democrats, who even before the decision were claiming victory, saying their own analysis showed that even without the belated ballots, Gregoire had erased Republican Dino Rossi's slim lead and had won the race by just eight votes out of 2.9 million cast.
Ah well...more lawsuits to come.

Political Prisoner: Soon Ok Lee, ex-Prisoner of North Korea

I wanted to highlight a political prisoner from North Korea this week, but my (admittedly cursory) researches were unable to find any specific ones, although there are plenty of sites dedicated to the plight of prisoners in that country in general. I did find this very good web site: The Soon Ok Lee Project. It is the site of an ex-Political prisoner of North Korea who is currently living in South Korea and works to shed light on the horrible conditions of the political prisoners held by North Korea. Here is an excerpt from her book:

My misery began after I returned from a business trip to China. I had gone there to buy fabric for officers of the government department and the Communist Party. One officer of North Korea’s Public Security Bureau (much like Russia’s KGB) asked me for more fabric for a suit than was his share. I could not do what he asked because my supplies were limited. Because I refused to satisfy his greed, I was thrown into the dark world of the prison system. I was cruelly and terribly punished. During fourteen months of interrogation, I endured tremendous physical and mental pain. As a frail woman, I could hardly bear it. After experiencing all kinds of threats, torture, appeasement, and deceptions, I was sentenced to thirteen years of imprisonment in a resocialization center. People who do not obey the rules of the government are sent there. All my life I had been told that North Korea’s communism values every human being. Yet I could not believe what I saw in that horrible place in my country. None of the prisoners were allowed to talk, laugh, sing, or look in a mirror. They had to sit on their knees with their heads bowed and answer questions when an interrogator spoke. Prisoners had to work eighteen hours a day at hard labor. If they did not complete their work for that day, they were thrown into solitary confinement. The prison was a place where the “animals that do not have tails” lived. That is what the prisoners were. It is beyond human comprehension how the Communist Party could treat people this way. How can the Communist system, in the time of no war, contradict its teachings by torturing people who share the same bloodline?
Take a moment to look through her site, read her story, and realize that she is one of the very lucky few to escape.

Something to make all true geeks smile

CNET News.com:

In the back of Carlos Owens' southern Alaska yard, an 18-foot-tall steel robot is taking shape in the dim light of the winter afternoons. The 26-year-old Owens is an Anchorage-area steelworker by day. In his own time, he's hoping to become the creator of a true 'mecha'--not a robot, exactly, but a gigantic exoskeleton that can transform its wearer's motions into eight-foot strides and the devastating sweep of a steel fist. Sure, it sounds like a cartoon or sci-fi fantasy--but so were moon landings 50 years ago. Owens' mecha project is well on its way to completion, its horned red head and pincher hands towering above its creator under a few inches of snow. He's hoping to finish it in time for a test spin at the local drag racetrack next summer, demolishing a few cars to show off its capabilities.
I admit it, I want one.

Foolish Criticism of the War

Power Line has a post discussing some of the common criticisms of the Iraq War, in particular criticisms of Bush and Rumsfeld as leveled by Andrew Sullivan. Worth checking out. This conclusion is particularly interesting:

Is there a mega-theme that ties all of this together? One candidate is the modern liberal view that the state can accomplish anything. However, Sullivan does not appear to be a statist in that sense, nor is Bill Kristol. Maybe it has more to do with baby-boomer traits -- a sense of entitlement and the demand for instant gratification. This might explain why it's particularly galling to have a pre-boom Defense Secretary refusing, a bit snidely perhaps, to confess error when 'stuff happens.' All the worse when the geezer isn't even sensitive enough to sign letters of condolence. In any case, I doubt that during World War II there was a comparable hue and cry about the absence of a 'plan' and the failure to own up to responsibility every time we suffered a setback.
Being Gen-X, I am always happy to blame Boomers for all ills in society. I expect though, that this is not so much a boomer problem as a problem with not understanding the nature of war. Perhaps people that havn't spent quite enough time reading history (or just playing strategy games.) War is a horrible thing, not the worst thing possible, but a horrible thing nonetheless. Most often nothing goes right, events happen in ways you can't predict and the enemy seeks to exploit any weakness you may have. Even worse, innocents are killed and your own troops, the sons and daughters of your countrymen may react very poorly to the stress and terror of the situation, doing things that in a 'civilized' place they would never think of. That is part of the price. It is a heavy price but some things are worth it. I happen to believe that freedom and democracy in Iraq is one of those things. A lot of Iraqis agree with me. Some don't obviously. America is split on the subject, and the world as a whole, as we all know, feels pretty strongly that a free Iraq is not worth the price. I supported the Iraq War with the belief that it would be more costly in terms of American lives than it has been so far. I am glad I was wrong. I did believe that things would settle down after about a year and Iraq would be fairly peaceful and on the path to Democracy. As we see from the headlines, I was wrong about that as well. However, none of these misguesses changes my belief that our cause in Iraq is noble and just. I am disturbed by people like Andrew Sullivan who supported the war, indeed vigourusly campaigned for it, and now, that things are not as 'nice' as they believe they should be are against those leading the war. I am disturbed by this not because I think it wrong to criticize our leaders, but because the majority of the critiques reflect a deep misunderstanding of the nature of war. It means they we advocating something they did not understand very well, and to the extent that they were influencial this is troubling, even though I was advocating the same thing. As I stated, this does not mean that criticism is wrong (although some of these specific criticisms are foolish) but it is a fact that the propaganda dimension of this war is perhaps the most signifigant, and most closely fought aspect of it. It is a very troubling development that honest criticism, and even honest questioning can be used as a 'weapon' by our enemies in this aspect of the war.

Email Controversy

Forbes.com: :

Offers of help have been pouring in for a Michigan man who is trying to persuade online giant Yahoo! to allow him access to the e-mail account of his son, a Marine killed in Iraq. From lawyers to computer-code crackers, people across the nation have come forward wanting to help the family of 20-year-old Justin M. Ellsworth, who was killed last month during a foot patrol in Iraq. 'Oh, my God. It's been incredible,' said John Ellsworth, Justin's father. 'It's an overwhelming response. ... Things are really moving. I'm very encouraged by it all, but I still have my reservations.' Yahoo! is standing by its policy of protecting the privacy of its e-mail subscribers, spokeswoman Karen Mahon said.
This is an interesting dilemma. Should an email account and the electronic documents it contains be considered part of an estate, to be transferred to the heirs of a person after death or should it remain private? Typically I believe traditional letters would become the property of the heirs but one could argue, as I guess Yahoo! is doing, that email accounts do not automatically transfer.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

iPod love

Random Gemini Weirdness has a post up about Apple iPods. I disagree with her about all of us wanting an iPod for Christmas though. I prefer to get my music via wireless technology. I do have my eye on this version though.

More on Israeli Settlements

Crosblog has a good post with some very relevant links on the Israeli settlement issue. I stand by my opinion that Israel should stop building settlements in the occupied territories and do their best to accomodate the removal of existing settlements. This has less in my mind to do with the right, or lack thereof, of the Israeli settlements to resist, but because I believe it is the only pragmatic course toward peace. It is fair to say that the this path may not succeed in peace, hostility toward Israel has been taught in the Arab world for generations now, but it is worth some sacrifices for. Obviously though the dispossed settlers should be compensated. Perhaps the Saudis, who we all know have the interest of the Palestinians at the front of their minds will provide this compensation to help this cause they care so deeply for. Yes, that last bit was sarcasm.

Grok this


An unexplained phenomenon akin to a space-borne car wash has boosted the performance of one of the two U.S. rovers probing the surface of Mars, New Scientist magazine said on Tuesday. It said something -- or someone -- had regularly cleaned layers of dust from the solar panels of the Mars Opportunity vehicle while it was closed down during the Martian night.
Via Instapundit who will apparently allow the Martians to squeegee his Passat but not his RX-8.

Born-Again President -- White House Hanukkah

Dennis Prager writes about Hanukkah at the White House:

Only in America does a president light a menorah while a Jewish choral group sings Hebrew songs and the Marine band plays American songs. Only in America do Jews feel so honored as Jews and yet so completely part of the larger culture, fully Jewish and fully part of the greater nationality. Non-American Jews (including even Canadians) are often amazed at how completely American Jews in the U.S. feel. We take it for granted, but as a former college lecturer in Jewish history, I know that this is unique. It is an incredible blessing to be an American Jew (or 'Jewish American' - both terms are accurate). We are doubly blessed. An Israeli interviewer once asked if I were first a Jew or an American, 'I have two fathers,' I said. 'George Washington and the patriarch Abraham.' So to be one of about 200 Jews invited to celebrate Hanukkah at the White House with the president of the United States was about as profound a personal moment as I have experienced. My two loves -- America and Judaism -- in one place, reinforcing each other.
He goes on to talk about how America has been historically quite friendly toward Jews. Obviously, our history hasn't been perfect in this regard, Anti-Semitism wasn't (and still isn't) unknown on these shores but we do have a better record than most, and we have strived to improve. I think that our melting pot heritage, our willingness to accept than anyone can be an American, is our greatest stregth. No we are not free from prejudice of various stripes, but we do try to include and we do try to improve. Few countries can say as much.

10 Worst Quotes From The Democratic Underground For 2004


Gotta love Tony

Tony Blair made a surprise visit to Iraq and gave a press conference with Iyad Allawi. Read the whole thing. Here is a teaser from his initial statement:

I've just visited members of the electoral commission and met some of their staff, and I said to them that I thought that they were the heroes of the new Iraq that's being created because here are people who are risking their lives every day in order to make sure that the people of Iraq get a chance to decide their own destiny democratically. And I'd just like to say this very strongly to the outside world, whatever people's feelings or beliefs about the removal of Saddam Hussein and the wisdom of that, there surely is only one side to be on in what is now very clearly a battle between democracy and terror.
It is also interesting to read the questions that are the press asked him and to look at how those questions were phrased. I challenge anyone to read them and claim that there is not an anti-war bias there.

America is for it, so it must be bad.

An interesting round-up of various responses to the democratic protests in the Ukraine in the Washington Post:

But in this highly charged atmosphere, Yanukovych's accusations of U.S. meddling in Ukraine politics, echoed by Putin and the local press, are especially provocative. One Ukrainian weekly, '2000,' alleged that Yushchenko's 'orange revolution' campaign was coordinated from 'NATO's psychological operation centre' in Porto, Portugal. Citing unnamed sources, the story said the operation relied on high sound frequencies and drugs to influence the protesters. Skepticism about Ukraine's so-called Orange Revolution has also been sprouting in the Western European press. In a piece for the Guardian, historian Timothy Garton Ash cited a Times of London report that described the opposition crowds in Kiev as a 'mob.' He noted that a pundit for Berlin's Tagesspiegel compared the opposition's tactics to those of communist mastermind V.I Lenin.
I think, if we had high sound frequencies and drugs to influence protesters things would be going a lot smoother right now in Iraq. Toward the end of the article, the alternative view is expressed.
"Besides Denmark, Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway and the European Union as a body have done so. It's hardly a U.S. plot," the Post said yesterday. "There's good democracy promotion, and there's bad democracy promotion," the paper continued. "A reasonable person could argue, for instance, that the Iraq war represents the latter type. But no person worth listening to could argue that the explosion of Ukrainian democracy has been negative, and no one should believe that the United States, and the West in general, have to apologize for what they've done in Ukraine." "The United States has done its share of nasty things in this world," the editors concluded. "Support for Ukrainian democracy isn't one of them."
I have mentioned before, it takes a very strange view of the world to look at what is going on in the Ukraine with disapproval.

OpinionJournal - Extra

Arthur Chrenkoff has more Good news from Iraq in the Wall Street Journal. This poll on elections seems especially encouraging:

What will you base your vote on? Political agenda - 65% Factional origin - 14% Party Affiliation - 4% National Background - 12% Other reasons - 5% Do you support dialog with the deposed Baathists? Yes - 15% No - 84% Do not know - 1% Do you support postponing the election? Yes - 18% No - 80% Do not know - 2% Do you think the elections will take place as scheduled? Yes - 83% No - 13% Do not know - 4%
There is lots of other good news as well.

Russia 'Not Free'

Freedom House:

Political rights and civil liberties have become so restricted in Russia that the country has been downgraded to 'Not Free,' Freedom House announced in a major survey of global freedom released today.The global survey, 'Freedom in the World,' shows that Russia was the only country to register a negative category change in 2004, moving from Partly Free to Not Free. However, Russia was not the only country in the former Soviet Union that experienced political and civic changes: setbacks took place in Belarus and Armenia, while freedom gained in the aftermath of civic protests in Georgia and Ukraine.
This is something we need to keep a close eye on. Hopefully, the spirit of freedom sweeping through the Ukraine will spread east.

Monday, December 20, 2004

More criticism of the U.N.

Kenneth Cain, one of the authors of Emergency Sex writes about Kofi Annan and that the corruption that should be investigated is about Genocide, not Oil. His conclusion:

Liberal multilateralists on the left, like me, are often skittish about offering too pungent a critique of Mr. Annan, because it offers aid and comfort to the 'enemy' on the conservative unilateralist right. But if anyone's values have been betrayed at the U.N. over the past decade it is those of us who believe most deeply in the organization's ideals. Just ask the men and women of Rwanda and Srebrenica.
I wonder what Mr. Cain would make of the idea that the U.N. is just a trade association for executive power? It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on that. I agree though that the U.N. has betrayed the left and they should be far more than anrgy at it than the right. The fact that it is not highlights what to my mind is the great failing of the left, the tendancy to put process and theory on a higher plane than what is actually practiced. This has lead them to excuse the behavior of the U.N., to overlook the horrors of Communist Dictatorships, and to, perhaps most fatally of all, fail to police themselves of those who deeply hurt their cause. (article via GlennReynolds.com)

It's Alive! Alive!

BBC: Researchers at Rockefeller University in the US have made the first tentative steps towards creating a form of artificial life. Their creations, small synthetic vesicles that can process (express) genes, resemble a crude kind of biological cell. The scientists appear to fully understand the controversy their work will likely generate:

Albert Libchaber's hope is to build up towards a minimal synthetic organism, with a designed cell wall, and a mixture of gene circuits that would let it maintain itself like a living cell. As these constructs become more lifelike, the rest of us will have to start rethinking the nature of life. "This is rather philosophical," says Dr Libchaber. "For me, life is just like a machine - a machine with a computer program. There's no more to it than that. But not everyone shares this point of view," he told the BBC.
This sort of research is fascinating to me and I believe will greatly help us learn what 'life' is and how to manipulate it. Obviously some people will find this 'dangerous' or 'irreligious' and I agree that it could be dangerous (the article mentions another experiment where a polio virus was assembled from components.) I think the dangers are outweighed by the prospective benefits however. While I am sure this line of research will cause huge problems in the future (change always causes huge problems) I expect the benefits will be even greater.

Pfizer Pulling Advertising for Celebrex

ABC News:

Pfizer Inc. says it will immediately pull advertising for its top-selling arthritis pain reliever Celebrex, whose safety was called into question last week after a study found an increased risk of heart attacks in patients taking high dosages of the drug. Pfizer spokesman Andy McCormick said the company was suspending Celebrex ads in newspapers, radio, TV and magazines. He said the company made the decision in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration. McCormick also said Pfizer plans to have its sales staff meet with doctors to explain the findings of the survey, which were made public on Friday. He said Pfizer plans to keep Celebrex on the market.
I know that I am happy about this decision simply because I hate their commercials. Their stupid song tends to get stuck in my head. I all seriousness, I have had several discussions with friends about prescription drug advertising. I tend to lean to a laissez faire attitude about this based upon the idea that people have a right to learn about medicines through a variety of channels. However, the Celebrex commercials in particular were troubling as they simply seemed to be advertising that life was better with Celebrex without giving any information about what the drug was for. It seemed to me to be marketing to hypocondriacs. Obviously this has little to do with the reason Celebrex advertising is being pulled, and an increased risk of heart attack does not automatically make this a 'bad' drug as sometimes the benefits can outweigh the risk. Patients and doctors should of course be informed of this and I see no reason to criticize Pfizer in this regard.



President Bush on Monday set aside initial reservations and backed British plans for a Middle East conference but he said upcoming Palestinian elections were just the start of a process that should not be cut short. Diplomatic sources said the Bush administration would be sending a senior diplomat to the February conference in London, which is aimed at fostering Palestinian reforms after the death of President Yasser Arafat. At the same time Washington has tried to assure Israel that the conference would not be an attempt to bypass a U.S.-backed peace 'road map,' which obliges Palestinians to end militant violence before statehood negotiations.
I agree with Bush on this one. A legitimate democratic Palestinian government committed to stopping terrorism is a prerequisite for any serious negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The Jan. 9 elections will hopefully be a step in the right direction, but elections are not democracy and trying to move to quickly could in fact spoil the process. Also in the news today is a reminder that all the opponents of peace in the region are not Palestinian.
Israel's main grouping of settlers called today for civil disobedience to resist the government's plans to dismantle all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small ones in the West Bank. The settler leaders, gathered in the Yesha Council, endorsed a call to non-violent resistance to the government issued on Sunday by a former council leader, Pinchas Wallerstein. It would be the first time that the council has explicitly backed illegal activity in pursuit of its goals.
Israeli settlements in the occupied territory are a violation of international agreements and the U.S. government should, in my opinion, be more forceful in denouncing them. While I think we should firmly be an ally of Israel and help ensure it's defense from outside threats that does not mean we should turn a blind eye to it's mistakes. We can support Israel and condemn Palestinian terrorism while still acknowledging that Israel is not perfect. (Turkmenistan link via Crosblog)

Charter Schools

Here is an interesting oop-ed in the New York Post about a fight over establishing a charter school in Niagara:

And, indeed, Hague and his troops shouldn't have to fight. No group trying to start a charter school anywhere in the state could win a pitched battle with the established interests. The unions and the districts have more people and money. It's because of these entrenched interests, in fact, that charter schools were created - to route around the failed bureaucracies of public-school systems that have been shielded from competition.
I am generally in favor of Charter schools, at least the idea of them. I freely concede that any individual Charter school may be bad, and my friend Aric, who is working on his teaching degree, informs me that certain charter school provisions in some states are poorly designed. I have not personally verified his claims but I certainly have no reason to doubt they are true. Nonetheless, I have seen no evidence that Charter schools cause any significant harm, and it seems that they do, at least in some cases, do a significant amount of good. It also seems to me that giving parents more choices in their child's education can't be a bad thing in principle. However, Charter Schools may not be the solution to our children's education deficiencies, perhaps because the school systems themselves are not really the problem. Sandcastles and Cubicles has posted on this Fox News article about few students opting for better schools. I speculated in the comments on his post as to why that might be. The main thing to remember is that the goal (and despite my libertarian leanings I think it is a worthy goal for the government to be involved with) is to improve the educational opportunities and successes for children. If charter schools prove ineffective because of low involvement (for whatever reason) but serve to sooth our conscience and convince us that we are doing 'something' it would be better that they didn't exist at all.

The World's Greatest Trade Association?


The United Nations is the pre-eminent trade association for people involved in the business of government power. Actually, it is more focused than that. The United Nations is the trade association for the world's executive branches -- the place where executive branches come together to promote their individual interests to one another, and to promote the expansion of executive authority in general. This point is often missed by UN critics who dismiss the organization as nothing more than the world's greatest debating society. These critics confuse being voluntary with being powerless. Organizations like The American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the International Tobacco Growers' Association are all voluntary -- but certainly not powerless. Once it is understood that the United Nations is a trade association for the promotion of executive authority, its behavior becomes almost rational. The trade association extends professional courtesy to its members -- its cardinal rule is not to step on the toes of another executive. Saddam Hussein violated this rule by invading Kuwait and displacing another executive. Hussein paid for this mistake; the UN stepped in to enforce discipline amongst its members.
I'll have to think about this premise for a bit. Certainly it is an interesting analogy, and right off the top of my head I can't think of anything that shows it to be way off base. The only aspect, niggling at the back of my brain, is that this analogy doesn't account for the NGOs, which have a great deal of presence and power at the U.N. Regardless, it is something that is interesting to think about. (via Instapundit)

Friday, December 17, 2004

The EU

Timothy Garton Ash has written a thought provoking op-ed on the European Union, and it's strengths. This bit here is interesting, although I am not sure I fully agree with it:

The most immediate challenge, of course, is terrorism. And one could make a strong case that the European Union's agreement to open membership negotiations with Turkey will be a bigger contribution to winning the war on terrorism than the American-led occupation of Iraq. Iraq is now a bloody playground for existing groups of Islamist terrorists - and probably a breeding ground for new ones. The European Union's offer to Turkey, by contrast, sends a clear signal that Europe is not an exclusive 'Christian club,' that the West is engaged in no crusade, and that a largely Islamic society can be reconciled not only with a secular state but also with the rules and customs of modern liberal democracy.
I applaud the decision of the E.U. to include Turkey, although I am unsure that in the long run it will benefit that country. This simple fact though, is that Turkey wanted to join and the E.U. was right to accept them. Time will tell whether that will have a greater effect than Iraq in reforming the Arab nations though. Turkey has been somewhat democratic and pro-West for a long time and that has had only limited effect on it's Arab co-religionists. We can't say yet what effect Iraq will have, I personally am very hopefull that it's effect will be huge. This bit here though I think misses a few points:
Robert Kagan describes the difference between America and Europe as the difference between power and weakness - American power, that is, and European weakness. This description is sustainable only if power is measured in terms of military strength. In the way that some American conservatives talk about the European Union, I hear an echo of Stalin's famous question about the Vatican's power: how many divisions does the pope have? But the pope defeated Stalin in the end. This attitude overlooks the dimensions of European power that are not to be found on the battlefield.
I will never discount the role of the Pope in the fall of communism. Truely that was one of the Catholic Church's finest hours, and the effect of it cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, to say that the Pope won and Stalin lost is a distortion. Without the willingness of the West, the United States in particular, to defend Europe against aggression the collapse of communism might have never happened. American militarism working with the Pope's morality ended communism in a historically unprecidented manner. Either alone would have probably caused a far worse outcome. The second question on dealing with this issue is does the EU, which admittedly has little military power, possess a moral force that is the equivilent of the Pope? In certain areas, I think that this may in fact be true. The EU has demonstrated that nation states can reach agreements even difficult ones, without the need for force of arms. This can indeed be a useful example to the world. I would caution though that ignoring the role of the U.S. as the primary defender of the West over the last half-century in analyzing this phenomenon would be a mistake. As to the equivilence in dealing with the Arab world with the way the Pope confronted the Soviet Union I find the EU sorely lacking. Too often it seems that the EU is prepared to coddle dictators and make excuses for them. While they have certainly condemned terror they seem to have little interest in advancing freedom. Of course, America is not free from this fault either.

Fuzzy Math

Allan Sloan writes about government bookkeeping (perhaps it is too generous to call it that.):

The federal budget is a bizarre mess, with unique bookkeeping practices that make it almost impossible for an outsider - or even most insiders - to figure out what's really going on. If corporations produced numbers like these, jail cells would be filled with CEOs. But Washington doesn't impose laws like Sarbanes-Oxley reform legislation on itself. It does whatever it wants.
As someone who suffers on a daily basis from having to deal with the effects of the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, this does indeed make me mad. From my reading of the article, it doesn't really speak against Social Security Reform or in favor of it, it mostly says that the government lies about it's money in a way that would make Ken Lay blush and as a result it is really tough to critically examine the effects of any change in policy.

Privatising Social Security

Andrew Sullivan has posted an argument by Michael Kinsley against social security privatizaation. Donald Luskin has, to my mind, a pretty compelling response. What it boils down to, in my mind, is their are two kinds of people. Some think that the economic pic is of fixed size and are focused on making sure that everyone gets the same size of peice. The others believe that the pie can and does grow, and that everyone getting the same size peice is less important than everyone getting bigger pieces. I freely admit to being in the second category. This debate can also be seen in arguments over globalization. I have also been working through a post on Social Security in general in the back of my head. It isn't ready yet (who knows, it may never be) but if anyone wants to comment on what the purpose of Social Security is in their mind and how well (or poorly) it meets that goal it would be of great interest to me.

Michael Crichton on Public Policy Science

This lecture by Michael Crichton is well worth reading. I would hope that even believers in Global Warming would have some concerns about the way 'Science' is sometimes being conducted today.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.
The Crichton also quotes Richard Feynman a couple of times, someone I am a huge fan of since I read "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character. (via tsykoduk)

No surprises here

Your Dominant Intelligence is Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
You are great at finding patterns and relationships between things. Always curious about how things work, you love to set up experiments. You need for the world to make sense - and are good at making sense of it. You have a head for numbers and math ... and you can solve almost any logic puzzle. You would make a great scientist, engineer, computer programmer, researcher, accountant, or mathematician.
Your Element Is Earth
You excel at planning and strategizing. You could be a champ at chess or Survivor. Well grounded, you are able to be realistic and rationalize. On the inside, you have a hard core. It's tough to phase you. You are super productive, and you are able to think anything through. Focused and super charged, your instincts are a good guide for your next step.
(via Jenn)

Political Prisoner: Nasser Zarafshan, Iran

Nasser Zarafshan

Zarafshan, who is also an author and translator, was serving as legal representative for the relatives of two of the families of Iranian writers and journalists who were assassinated in November 1998 in what came to be known in Iran as the “serial murders” case. The murdered journalists included Majid Charif, an editorialist with the monthly Iran é Farda, writer-journalists Mohamad Mokhtari and Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh, and freedom of expression activists Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar. The action against Zarafshan is said to be both in retribution for his criticism of the official investigation carried out into the murders and also as a means of silencing others who seek the truth behind the killings.
Zrafshan remains in prison to this day. I havn't been able to find out a lot of other information on Zarafshan, although the Tahkimeh Vahdat, Iran's pro-democracy coalition lists him as one of it's members.

FrontPage magazine.com :: The Case for Democracy by Jamie Glazov

Jamie Glazov has written an interview with Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner. The entire thing is great and I strongly urge you to read the whole thing. If I was to highlight every bit I think is important I would end up having to reproduce the entire article on this blog. One bit though did catch my attention specifically. Not because it is any more true or profound than the rest of the interview, but it because it is something that I can, in a small way, take part in:

The sceptics should remember that when I became a dissident in the 1970s, I knew that I could be arrested and imprisoned, but I also believed that the free world would stand with me. That is a comfort that potential dissidents in the Arab world do not have. Not only have the regimes they are confronting treated them with impunity, the free world has also remained silent. Once that changes, once the free world encourages democratic forces within the region, once it links its policies toward states in the region to the degree of freedom they provide their own citizens, nothing will stop the march of freedom.
I don't know if it will ever make a difference, but I am going to begin researching stories of political prisoners and posting them here. Obviously this blog doesn't have a huge readership, but every little candle in the darkness adds more light.

Yushchenko Poisoning

Guardian Unlimited:

A scientist analysing the compound used to poison Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko have determined that he was given TCDD, an ingredient of Agent Orange.
It is a bit Ironic (perhaps purposefully so?) that Yushchenko, the leader of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, was poisoned by an ingredient of Agent Orange. Sadly, effects of this will likely remain with Yushchenko for the rest of his life.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Peggy Noonan on symbols

Peggy Noonan, who is always worth reading, has a column about symbols up. Her final bit is an encouragement for the Democratic Party to renounce the anti-Christmas and anti-Religion people. The more interesting bit to me is this part though:

It seemed to me that the Democrats in the last cycle really did think there is some high magic in the creation of political rhetoric, and that Republicans do some voodoo that they, being ingenuous and honest, haven't quite gotten a handle on yet. As long as Democrats think that, Republicans will win. But just for the record, it's a kind of crazy and paranoid way to look at rhetoric--secret codes and secret code receivers. Here's a real secret. The most successful phrases are not imposed top-down from the candidate to the people; they bubble up and emerge and are used by the candidate. That's how 'It's the economy, stupid' came about. The American people let the Clinton campaign know the biggest issue for them in 1992 was the economy. Bill Clinton received the message--it was all over his polls--and used it. Another way of saying this is that Reagan didn't magically ride out from the West with a new political philosophy that he talked the American people into backing. A particular kind of conservatism was a rising tide in the 1970s and '80s and he was part of it. He believed in it; in time he became its most persuasive explainer and exhorter, and its natural leader. The meaning of Reaganism bubbled up around him and within him. Nothing had to be imposed from the top down. No symbols had to be manipulated, whatever that means.
To boil this down: You can only be so successful at selling things people don't want to buy and sincerity matters.

Voices of Iraq Review

Jeff Jacoby reviews the Voices of Iraq documentary in the Boston Globe:

'Voices of Iraq' is by turns heartbreaking, exhilarating, and inspiring. The war and its destruction is never far from the surface. One of the opening scenes is of a car bombing in Sadr City, and when a little girl is asked, 'What do you want to tell the world about Iraq?' her answer is poignant: 'These explosions are hurting everyone.' A mother is seen weeping for her son, killed in the crossfire during a fight between US soldiers and looters. There is even footage -- supplied, Drury told NPR, by a sheik from Fallujah -- of insurgents preparing a bomb. But bad as the war is, the horror it ended -- Saddam's 24-year reign -- was worse. ... Yes, it's a liberation. And the men and women we liberated, it turns out, are people just like us. The headlines dwell on the bad news, and the bad news is certainly real. But things are looking up in Iraq, as the Iraqis themselves will be happy to tell you. All someone had to do was ask.
I still need to see this movie.

Encouraging Poll Numbers

This Power Line post has some encouraging poll numbers from Iraq. No link to the source, which was apparently an Arabic Newspaper, but if accurate, this looks like very good news. I have said before that we need to do all we can, but in the end the success of democracy in Iraq is up to Iraqis.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


John R Guardiano, who served in Iraq in 2003, has some interesting thoughts on the Rumsfeld body armor questioning in the Wall Street Journal. Well worth a read.


Claudia Rosett:

Ukraine achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, only to be written off in short order as a basket case. The country has been run for the past 10 years by a former Soviet party boss, President Leonid Kuchma; sunk in corruption and lamed by generations of subservience to Moscow. When Mr. Yushchenko set out upon his campaign for the presidency, says Mr. Rybachuk, there were people 'laughing in my face, saying we are idiotic, or romantic, or naive.' As it turned out, the voters of Ukraine thought otherwise, and when Mr. Kuchma tried to steal the election, they spoke up. With their flags and vigils and calls for fellowship from the democratic nations of the world, they have been insisting on their right to choose freely and fairly who will govern their country. 'This is real independence day,' Mr. Rybachuk told me, 'because we have kids who will never be slaves again.' ... And right there is the basic remedy for the miseries of the Middle East. There has been plenty of debate about the humiliations of the Muslim world, and how to redress or contain the rage and hate this breeds. There have been endless disquisitions on the complicated politics, the complex cultural and religious divides, and the--how did Mr. Rybachuk put it?--the idiocy, romanticism and naiveté of the idea, put forward as policy by President Bush, that living under the rule of some of the world's most corrupt thugs are vast silent majorities who given any room to maneuver would prefer to create free societies. The bottom line is simple, and universal. Freedom brings with it a degree of dignity that repression can never confer. No amount of handouts from the likes of the Saudi royals, or Libya's terrorist tycoon, Moammar Gadhafi, or United Nations-sanctioned rations under a Saddam Hussein, can make up for the self-respect that comes with the self-determination of free people.
Read the whole thing. Rosett points out, quite correctly, that challenges and setbacks remain, both for Ukraine and Iraq but freedom is moving forward in the world. There is plenty of reason to hope, and even more reason to do what we can to make this desirable outcome more likely.

More quiz fun

You Are an Old Soul
You are an experience soul who appreciates tradition. Mellow and wise, you like to be with others but also to be alone. Down to earth, you are sensible and impatient. A creature of habit, it takes you a while to warm up to new people. You hate injustice, and you're very protective of family and friends A bit demanding, you expect proper behavior from others. Extremely independent you don't mind living or being alone. But when you find love, you tend to want marriage right away. Souls you are most compatible with: Warrior Soul and Visionary Soul

France Inaugurates World's Highest Bridge

The New York Times:

President Jacques Chirac inaugurated the world's highest bridge on Tuesday, a creation taller than the Eiffel Tower, longer than the Champs Elysees and designed to end a traffic bottleneck in southern France. Conceived by British architect Norman Foster, the slender white viaduct in the picturesque Tarn Valley will provide a new motorway link between Paris and the Spanish border, easing congestion in the Rhone valley during the busy summer months.
Click through to the article to see a picture of the bridge, it is an amazing structure.

Adapting to Climate Change

Ronald Bailey writes in TCS about how to deal both with climate change and natural disasters that have always occured:

In climate-speak some mitigation strategies aimed at cutting GHG emissions by limiting energy use are called 'no regrets' proposals, that is, actions that a company or agency would take anyway that also results in GHG reductions, e.g., switching a power plant from coal to natural gas. It is past time to seriously consider 'no regrets' strategies for adapting to climate change. No country would regret having better roads, hospitals, sanitation, sea walls, houses, access to electricity, communications and so forth. All of these things would make its citizens less vulnerable to whatever weather disasters a changing climate might bring. So how to implement a no regrets climate change adaptation strategy? The best way to do it is the old-fashioned way by encouraging economic growth and free trade to alleviate poverty, illiteracy, maternal and infant mortality, and so forth. For example, people living in the developing countries that have participated in the current wave of globalization by being more open to free markets and trade have been becoming richer. World Bank economist David Dollar has pointed out, 'Between 1993 and 1998, the number of absolute poor in the globalizing developing countries declined by an estimated 120 million, while poverty increased in the rest of the developing world by 20 million.' Indeed, Dollar adds, 'China has seen the most dramatic poverty reduction in history.'
As I mentioned previously, I don't know what effect humans have on the climate, but the best way to deal with it is a robust world economy and increased scientific knowledge.

Commander Adama

What classic sitcom character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla (hat tip: Nome)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Blogfaddah of the Year

Will Collier, of Vodkapundit nominates Glenn Reynolds for Time Magazine's Person of the Year. I strongly endorse this nomination. 2004 has indeed been the year of the Blog, and Instapundit has done more than anyone to shape the Blogosphere. I know that he single handedly is responsible for me being an avid blog reader, and to eventually start my own blog. Collier also mentions Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne. This would also be a good choice, but sadly hasn't influenced the public as much as I would wish. In 20 years I expect that SpaceShipOne will be seen as the most important event of 2004, but in the here and now it hasn't had that great of an effect yet.

Winning the War

Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek that we are winning in Iraq:

The best evidence for this comes from the audio tape released by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, one of the insurgent leaders, on Nov. 24, in which he laments that the clerics, leaders and people of Iraq abandoned him: 'You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy ... You have quit supporting the mujahedin ... Instead of implementing God's orders you chose safety and preferred your money and your sons.' Iraq remains unstable and highly unsafe. But if al-Zarqawi is reading the public's mood right, the insurgency is losing popular support. It will try to disrupt the elections. The bigger problem remains Sunni participation. But assuming substantial Shia and Kurdish turnout, if 30 percent of the Sunnis vote, and that is quite possible, it's enough to give the new government some real national legitimacy. And that will make it easier to tackle the insurgency.
I was certainly never as doubtful as Zakaria was at times about our prospects for success in Iraq but the past few weeks have been good news, as evidenced by the relative lack of bad news. This is certainly not to say that their won't continue to be violence in Iraq, winning isn't won, but Fallujah has seemed to have heartened those Iraqis who want democracy and certainly the claims that the campaign would turn more Iraqis against us haven't been born out. This bit of Zakaria's story is also interesting:
Six months ago America was headed for disaster in Iraq, with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani threatening to call for active Shia opposition. At this point, Iraq policy was taken out of the Pentagon and run out of the White House, under Condoleezza Rice and her associate Robert Blackwill. Then began the reversals. Washington finally asked the United Nations to step in and arrange a transition that would junk the U.S.-appointed (and highly unpopular) Governing Council. The new, Interim Government, which came into being in June, was chosen by the United Nations and blessed by Sistani. De-Baathification ended. Military operations became much more conscious of their political effects, beginning with a carefully executed one in Najaf. And while vowing that it didn't need more troops, the administration has slowly increased troop strength so that by January 2005 the force will be 30 percent larger than it was a year ago.
I disagree with Zakaria on this. While it may well be true that the White House has taken a more active role, I believe that this doesn't demonstrate incompetence on the part of the military, but rather a learning curve that all wars require. Every conflict is different and the plans are never perfect going into them. Did we do everything perfectly? Obviously not. But no military ever has. I am no general, but I have made somewhat of an amateur study of war. Given historical precedents, Iraq has gone amazingly well so far and our military and political classes have adapted quite well to it's particular needs.

Google Puts Library Collections Online

NewsFactor Network:

Search technology pioneer Google is archiving the collections from some of the world's leading libraries, putting millions of volumes at the fingertips of Internet users. Participating in the project are Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, and the New York Public Library, which have agreed to let Google digitally scan their library books and organize them online. Over time, the company will integrate this content into its index.
The internet in general and Google in particular are amazing things to me. So much information is available to us in an instant, and this knowledge is continuing to expand exponentially. This latest project of Google's will help increase that. There is one minor catch though:
Searchers will see links at the top of their results page when there are books that are relevant to their query. Clicking on a title delivers a Google Print page where users can browse the full text of public domain works and brief excerpts and/or bibliographic data of copyrighted material.
Now this wouldn't bother me at all, authors should receive recompense for their effort and Google certainly shouldn't be giving away the author's work for free. The downside though is that way is in the public domain now seems to be all that will ever be there. Congress has made it a practice to continually extending copywrite terms so that nothing new ever goes into the public domain. For more information on this I urge you to check out Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig.

Eugene Volokh on Designer Babies

Eugene Volokh has an interesting post on choosing genetic characteristics for children. Basically he says, and I agree with him, that this doesn't seem like a bad thing at all. The only risk I can see is that certain traits may become so popular that the genetic diversity of the species itself is lowered and we lose something as a species that was valuable in a way we didn't realize. I view this risk as being fairly small though, and the same technology can theoretically give us traits that are desirable that we would have never had otherwise. Humanity has largely overcome the limits of our evolution by applying culture, rather than genetics, toward overcoming environmental limitations. This step seems to hold even greater potential in that regard.

Friday, December 10, 2004

'Madrid attack' averted in London


Police have prevented a terror attack in London on the scale of the Madrid bombings, according to a police chief. Speaking to BBC London on Thursday, Met Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said terrorism was a major issue for the UK capital. He said a number of terror attacks had been thwarted and hundreds of people were going through the courts. 'The risk of an attack to London has not changed; an attack is still inevitable,' he said. 'Thank God to date, and we have had to work extremely hard, we've thwarted attacks, ' he added. We've driven down gun crime but I think there has been a move over to knives When asked if the force had stopped an attack on the scale of Madrid he said: 'Yes, I can't discuss it because of court proceedings but yes we have stopped a Madrid.'
I suspect that similar successes have occured in this country, and have had to be kept secret as well for a variety of reasons.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Climate Change

Andrei Illarionov, chief economic adviser to the president of the Russian Federation, writes in the Australian about Global Warming and the Kyoto Protocol:

The fact is the Kyoto protocol that will be a global treaty within months is based on fraudulent science. Assertions that global temperatures are higher today than any time in the past are completely false. Fluctuations in climate patterns have existed for millions of years -- for all earth history. Global temperatures were higher in the Roman times when grapes were grown on British islands and Hannibal's elephants walked through the Alps into Italy. They were higher in the medieval period when the Vikings found and colonised the island that they have called Greenland and when Norwegians grew grain on the fields that are 300m in altitude higher than it is possible to do today. Temperature variations in the course of the earth's history have been much greater than the increase of 0.6 degrees Celsius estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the last century. In the past, the earth's climate was warmer, the global temperature rose faster, sea level was higher, floods were more severe, droughts lasted longer and hurricanes were more devastating than they were in the 20th century. Moreover, the best available temperature data from satellites show negligible temperature changes over the past several decades.
I am not willing to say at this point that human caused climate change isn't happening. I do not think though that the Kyoto treaty is the right answer even if it is happening. First, we need better, and less politicized, science on climate change. We don't know enough yet to have any realistic hope of effecting the climate in a desired direction. If, as Kyoto proponents claim, the CO2 from hydrocarbons is causing extreme climate change, then the amount of lowered CO2 emissions from following Kyoto are not nearly enough to make a difference. At the same time, by halting economic development, they will make us less able to respond to challenges a changing climate (whether human caused or not) will present to us.

Again with Never Again

Washington Post:

On Nov. 8, a U.N.-appointed commission of inquiry arrived in the Darfur region of western Sudan, to determine whether the slaughter of close to 100,000 people over the past six months constitutes genocide. While this three-month mission slowly goes about its business, Darfur continues to disintegrate into a horror zone of killing fields, mass rapes and ethnic cleansing. For a few brief moments on Sept. 16, the European Union seemed to draw a line in the sand. On that day the European Parliament declared that the actions of the Sudanese government in Darfur were "tantamount to genocide," and E.U. ministers threatened sanctions "if no tangible progress is achieved" in meeting U.N. demands to halt the killings. Yet nearly three months later, two things remain clear: First, Khartoum has done nothing constructive to end the slaughter and, second, neither has the European Union. Tragically, "never again" is happening again. The World Health Organization's latest report states that more than 70,000 displaced people have died since March and that an estimated 10,000 people per month will continue to die if adequate relief does not reach those affected. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, more have been victims of brutal, often organized, gang rapes, and almost a million people have been driven from their homes.
I have posted on Darfur several times before. Occasionally we see signs of progress, followed by backsliding. All the while atrocities are happening, people are dying and when it is over, doubtless we will say "We tried" or "We did what we could". Cold comfort to the victims.

Subjects who will be Citizens

Timoth Garton Ash writes about the Ukranian 'revolution' in the Guardian:

These are the so-called ordinary people who, by their spontaneous reaction on that Monday, November 22, made history. First it was the Kievans, taking ownership of their own city. Then it was the outsiders. All the well-funded campaign for the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko; all the carefully prepared student activists of the resistance movement Pora ("It's time"); all the western support for NGOs, exit polls and the like; all the international election monitors; all the telephone calls from Washington or Brussels - none of them would have prevailed over President Kuchma's vicious regime with its manipulated media, Russian advisers and electoral fraud were it not for the Svyatoslavs and Vasils, the Elenas and Vovas, coming on to the streets of Kiev in such numbers that they changed everything. So much is still obscure, corrupt and inauthentic in Ukrainian politics, but at the very heart of this change is something very authentic: human beings hoping to take control of their own destiny. Mere objects of history who become, however briefly, active subjects. Subjects who will be citizens.
Read the whole thing. Beautifully written and touching. This bit is also compelling:
Probably for the first time in Ukrainian history, the democratic and the national aspirations are marching together. In places such as Bosnia, East Timor or Iraq, western occupiers talk implausibly of "nation-building". Here you see how nations are built, in the solidarity of chanting crowds and the brandishing of new symbols. "I feel more Ukrainian now than I did three weeks ago," says a young man of Russian origin. There, in a single sentence, is the essence of true nation-building. In this still largely Russian-speaking country, just 42% of those asked in a nationwide survey this February identified themselves as "above all" citizens of Ukraine. (An amazing 13% answered "Soviet citizen".) One of the survey's designers bet me that next February it will be 50% or more.