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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Broken Quanta turns 1

Broken Quanta: It's Been Some Year. Go and congratulate him!


Josh Marshall's new site TPMCafe is up and looks very interesting. Se. John Edwards is guest blogging there this week, his first post is about how being poor is more expensive. I am not a huge fan of Edward's divisive populism, but the problems he points out are very real. Unlike the common liberal perception, I, and most other Conservatives, do care about the poor. We tend to believe though that the handout programs so popular with Liberals tends to exacerbate rather than diminish the problem. Nonetheless, the problems Edwards describes here are very real, and we should consider these problems and look for solutions. He links to this study which describes some of the extra expenses that poor people end up paying. I think think you can pretty much group these into three broad categories. One is medical expenses. As the study points out, the uninsured cost for a given medical treatment is often dramatically higher than the insured cost. This is not because hospitals hate the poor, most end up losing money on uninsured patients, but rather it reflects that simple fact that the uninsured are much less likely to pay their bills. If only one out of four uninsured end up paying, then it makes sense to charge four times as much for care that is uninsured, this is especially true when hospitals are forced to treat people regardless of their ability to pay. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle. The more costs rise for uninsured patients the less likely they are to be able to pay their bills, and thus costs will rise even more. Exacerbating the situation is these same people are unable to afford preventive care, making their treatment more expensive than it would otherwise be. I don't have a good solution to this problem. I am deeply distrustful of socialized medicine, in fact I believe the partial socialization via Medicare and Medicaid have contributed greatly to the increased cost of health care. I am also very worried about the rationing that a socialized system would have to utilize, as well as the dangers of loss of R&D incentives. This is an issue I am very interested in, but so far I have been unable to find a solution. The second category is lack of education and failure to apply good financial planning. This is fairly common through all strata of our society, but the poor with less margin for error tend to be disproportionately effected. This problem, and the solution, was explained eloquently by Charles Dickens over 200 years ago:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
We could do a better job educating our citizens about Financial planning, the actual cost of living on credit, and how beneficial it is to save. One thing we should do is make this a part of the High School curriculum. In addition, I believe that seminars on this subject would be a beneficial and appropriate use of tax dollars. Obviously improving education in all aspects would have a hugely beneficial effect on the poor, but even this more limited focus would have, I believe a dramatic effect. The third category is hinted at, but danced around, by the study. Crime and lack of Police protection. To many poor neighborhoods, especially in the inner cities, are effectively lawless territory. This makes opening a business in those areas a chancy proposition which is a double whammy on the poor. Not only do those businesses end up charging a premium to cover extra theft, vandalism and insurance costs, but the limited number of businesses willing to deal with this makes jobs rare. This probably also accounts at least in part for the higher auto insurance rates in poor neighborhoods mentioned by the study. This is something we can, and should fix. Protecting it's citizens from crime and enforcing lawful behavior is a fundamental government responsibility. From a practical stand point, it is probably a good investment as well. Rudy Giuliani's Broken Windows method shows how we can effectively combat crime. In addition, most inner cities have strict gun control laws, leaving the poor unable to defend themselves. This is intolerable and a direct cause of increased crime, in my opinion. Lastly, we should reform our drug laws. The drug laws have created a very adversarial relationship between poor neighborhoods and the Police that are supposed to be protecting them. Many view this as a victimless crime, their sympathies lie with the marijuana smoker who gets busted rather than with the cops. This makes it more difficult for the police to fight violent crime, and they are not trusted by the citizens. It also of course takes many not violent people and sends them to prison where they get a graduate course in more serious crime. It a futile and dangerous policy we are pursuing and the poor are paying for it. Poverty is something we can, and should look at. Successful poverty reduction strategies must be more than handouts or flavor of the week programs though. They must be focused on changing the environment that exacerbates poverty in the first place.

3 Things Quiz

The Evil Tsykoduk as tagged me. I almost didn't do this, because it is far too long, but I decided to play along after all. 3 names I go by: Dave, David, and Justus (I have tried to get 'Your Eminence' to be common usage in addressing me, so far no luck) 3 physical things I like about myself: I can buy clothes of the rack and look good in them, I have great hair, and I stay thin without any effort. 3 physical things I dislike about myself: Not enough muscle tone, poor eyesight, and crooked teeth. 3 parts of my heritage: Norse Kings, Southern Slave Owners, New England Witches 3 things I am wearing right now: Pants, Shirt and underwear. 3 favorite bands / musical artists: Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Alan Parson's Project 3 (of many) favorite songs: The Devil Song (my theme song), Comfortably Numb, Vulture Culture, 3 things I want in a relationship: Sex, Fun, some more Sex 3 physical things about the preferred sex that appeal to me: Great ass, pretty face, high sex drive 3 of my favorite hobbies: Gaming, Reading, Wasting time blogging. 3 things I want to do really badly right now: Take a month off from work, be done with this quiz, and relax in the sun. 3 things that scare me: Becoming Paralyzed, Large women in Spandex, and, strangely enough, walking under bridges 3 of my everyday essentials: caffeine, nicotine, and a Book. 3 careers you have considered or are considering: Emperor of the World, Kept Man, and Jedi Knight. 3 places you want to go on vacation: Europe, New Orleans, and Iraq. 3 kids’ names you like: Aaron, Calvin, and Liberty Ann (my sister, born in 1976 almost got this one, Mom vetoed Dad on that). 3 things you want to do before you die: Become immortal, that should take care of everything. 3 ways I am stereotypically a boy: A distinct lack of housekeeping skills, refusal to ask directions, and a dislike of going shopping. 3 ways I am stereotypically a girl: Beats me. 3 celeb crushes: Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, Jeri Ryan 3 people who are up next: Gib, Brian, and Bill.


I highly recommend this post: http://www.qando.net/ - Torture: The Case Against, and Prescription for..... Well worth of reading. The proposed solution to the torture problem is interesting:

My preferred method of dealing with these terror prisoners would be to get two captains and a major together as a tribunal, declare them to be unlawful combatants, and put them in front of a firing squad. Now, maybe, because we're nice guys, we could let them know that if any of them give us verifiable, useful information, then we'll commute their sentences, and won't shoot them. Otherwise, however, it's a blindfold and a last cigarette for the lot of 'em. The difference of course, is that doing so would be legal.
That is of course correct. Based upon the Geneva convention it is perfectly legal to execute an unlawful combatant. Certainly though, this solution wouldn't win us any friends from those who oppose the war, and I doubt it would win friends among the Iraqi or Afghan people either. Another bit about the post that trouble me is it complains about 'hiding' prisoners from the International Red Cross. While I certainly agree that this tactic is problematic, and can lead to abuses, I can also see very good reasons for engaging is such a tactic. If we capture Jeff the terrorist, and Jeff agrees to cooperate and give up his friends, and perhaps more importantly, his contact methods, keeping the fact that Jeff has been captured secret is very important. Is this worth the risk that if we keep Jeff's capture secret he, or others like him, might end up secretly being abused? I am not sure. The entire issue is complex in my opinion. However, the level and severity of documented abuses, and the lightness of many of the sentences handed down so far is a serious problem, and it behooves those of us who are supporters of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to take this problem seriously. (via Instapundit)

Wretchard analyzes the EU vote

Belmont Club, read the whole thing as they say. His conclusion is especially important:

The real challenge for Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans and the British, is to articulate an alternative vision for the Continent. The European vision needs a second party in order to make up a debate.
As I have said, I think that the EU constitution is horrible. It is designed to empower rule by beaurocracy and will result in a stagnate government that will be unable to adapt with the times. However, that is certainly not why the French rejected the thing. They rejected it because they were afraid of a changing future and were worried about globalization. This is a signifigant problem for those of us who like the idea of a unified Europe, but want it to be a strong and free society, that embraces capitalism. It is hard to tell if Europeans want that, of if many do, but they lack leadership to articulate and promote that goal. It will be interesting to watch things develop.

Mistaken Identity

LA Times:

Mohsen Abdel Hamid, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was detained when U.S. troops raided his home shortly before dawn. He was released after Iraqi government officials, including Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, criticized the action. Hamid has been a voice of reconciliation, urging Sunnis to work with the Shiite-dominated government and condemning a surge in sectarian killings. A statement released by U.S.-led forces said the raid, which left Hamid's house with battered doors and smashed windows, was a case of mistaken identity. 'Mr. Hamid is being returned to his home,' the statement said. 'Coalition forces regret any inconvenience and acknowledge Mr. Hamid's cooperation in resolving this matter.' Speaking on Iraqi television, Jafari called Hamid a well-respected politician and noted that the detained leader had once served as president of the former Iraqi Governing Council. The Iraqi government worried that the embarrassing incident would deepen Sunni suspicions about the new government and its American backers. 'I will demand a clear accounting….' said Jafari, a Shiite Muslim whose administration has been negotiating with Sunni leaders to avert further sectarian violence. 'No civilian should be arrested without just cause.'
This sort of mistake, while probably inevitable, is very regretable. The best solution of course, is to get the Iraqi forces up to speed so that they can take over this sort of raid themselves, leaving U.S. forces for more conventional combat missions, until they can be replaced in that role as well. This will take time though, and it appears, that while a major mistake was made, our forces have handled it well and issued a quick and sincere apology. Doubtless though that will not heal all the damage from this incident. While we will probably not know exactly how this happened (for a variety of reasons the investigation will probably be classified) I suspect that we were the victims of an intelligence operation specifically designed to get us to make this mistake.

Fallout from French rejection of EU Constitution.

New York Times:

President Jacques Chirac of France fired his loyal, long-suffering prime minister today, a direct response to the country's decisive rejection of a referendum on the constitution for Europe that was as much as rejection of his 10-year presidency. In announcing the resignation of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Elysee Palace named Interior Minister and former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin as his replacement. The choice of Mr. de Villepin, 51, a well-born, high-octane former career diplomat who has never held elected office and writes poetry in his spare time, means that Mr. Chirac has no intention of abandoning his vision of a grand and glorious France with a unique leadership mission in the world. Mr. Chirac and Mr. de Villepin did not immediately announce a major shakeup of his cabinet. That is expected to be made known on Wednesday.
It seems pretty clear that the EU Constitution is dead at least for now. I am not sure that Chirac is taking the right lesson from this vote however, de Villepin seems like exactly the wrong sort of guy to be able to turn things around.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Pacific Northwest has the best drivers?

GMAC recently commisioned a study of driver knowledge. Here are the scores:

These are the average scores on a 20-question driver's test administered to more than 5,000 licensed drivers in a survey commissioned by the GMAC Insurance. Nation -- 82.7 1. Oregon -- 89.4 2. Washington -- 88.4 3. Iowa -- 87.7 4. Idaho -- 87.5"
If the drivers around here represent the best, I feel really sorry for the rest of you...

Saudi King Fahd hospitalized


Saudi Arabia's special forces were put on alert after King Fahd was hospitalized in Riyadh for tests Friday, the Saudi government said. The move is routine whenever the king is hospitalized, Saudi government sources told CNN on condition of anonymity. Members of the state-owned news media, who asked not to be identified, said they were told to be on standby for a possible announcement. Fahd, who is in his 80s, suffered a stroke in 1995 and has been hospitalized several times during the past six months. Since his stroke, King Fahd's half-brother Crown Prince Abdullah has run day-to-day operations of Saudi Arabia and is in line to inherit the throne.
My gut feeling is that there is a real chance for a Saudi Civil war when Fahd dies. I expect it will start off as a clandestine, shadow war, but it could quickly become widespread. The contestants in this war will be Crown Prince Abdullah, whom most Americans are aware of, and Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, who doesn't get many headlines here. He controls the Saudi Interior ministry, (aka the Secret Police) and has a hand in about everything else that goes on in the kingdom as well. He is no friend of America either. I believe that we have already glimped some of the early manuevering in this shadow war, with some of the counter terrorist actions (and unlikely escapes) in Saudi over the past couple of years. When Fahd dies, this could blow up. Update: Smash has thoughts along this line as well.


The discussions on my posting on the taboo test showed that I had done a poor job in the posts of explaining my moral views in totality or in an organized fashion. So this post is an attempt to do that. First off, any discussion of morality must be confined to the realm of free will and choices. Animals, the weather, and similar things cannot behave in a moral or and immoral fashion. This is also true of very young humans. Babies are by nature amoral creatures. Over time, they develop the capability for rational thought and become accountable for their choices, becoming either moral or immoral creatures. Certainly it is difficult to draw a line between a creature that is capable of morality and one that is not. How developmentally disabled can one be before free will is lost? I won’t attempt to explore that topic in detail here, suffice it to say that a gray region does exist. Morality must be thought of in two ways. First, there is a moral or an immoral choice. This is I believe something that is always right and wrong, there is no gray area, no relativism. Determining the correct choice may be difficult, but I assert that there always is one. Second, there is a moral or an immoral person. In this category there is nothing but shades of gray. No one is perfectly moral and no one is perfectly immoral. This differentiation is more defined by an earnest attempt to make moral choices than by final outcomes of events. First lets examine the choice itself, individual acts that are either moral or immoral. I define a moral choice as the one possible choice, out of all possible choices that yields the best result. Best is of course a very subjective term. In most cases, we can all agree on what that is, even though it may be difficult to accurately describe it. The best is the one that yields the most joy and advancement of well being for humanity. I don’t know that a logical definition of what is best can be constructed; value judgments are largely emotional in nature. There are diverse moral theories on this, and I think all can provide insights, but ultimately this is an emotional decision. Despite that, I think there is wide agreement on what is ‘best.’ Very few moral codes, even those that create what I consider to be very immoral actions have differing definitions of what is best, they are far more likely to differ on how we know what is best. Always knowing what is best is of course impossible. We have limited knowledge and must always operate with an incomplete understanding. I hold that using our intelligence to consider likely outcomes of our choices and having the humility to defer to established societal norms unless we are certain they are incorrect, and even then to be cautious, is the best way to evaluate our decisions. Others of course believe that communion with an omniscient divinity is a more reliable means of gaining the guidance for which choice is best. Having a reliable communion with omniscience would of course transcend human frailty, so this alternative has an obvious attractiveness. However, it does seem clear from history that this method is not always reliable. Among those who have professed such a communion, are some seemingly immoral men. We must conclude then that either morality is impossible for us to evaluate, and these immoral men were in fact moral (a notion I reject) or that they were lying or were deceived. While it is possible some men of this type have knowingly lied, I think a more likely explanation for most is that they were deceived, either by themselves or perhaps some external force. However, the communion with divinity method does seem to yield positive results frequently as well. As I have mentioned before, many people of faith seem to have a very positive moral character and I have a great deal of respect for them. I hypothesize that those of a high moral character use the characteristics of reason and humility that I mentioned above to prevent themselves from being deceived. As an aside, for those atheists out there, it is possible of course that no communion with a omniscient being is possible, as no such being exists. If that is the case, then it seems to me on basis of evidence, that attempting such a communion, even if necessarily futile, yields positive results and the use of reason and humility to guide one’s actions remains just as necessary. If devout believers can sometimes suffer and excess of humility, and not exercise enough reason on their own, then the reverse can be true as well. Those who insist that their own intellectual capabilities are enough to guide all moral decisions can be perhaps even more immoral than those who blindly follow a religious dogma. Hitler and the adherents of communism are both examples of that. Human reason is by nature limited and flawed, and any philosophy or moral code that does not take this into account is liable to make grave mistakes. Too much trust in reason leads to utopianism, and the inevitable evils that result when a utopia does not work out as well in reality as it does in the mind of the dreamer. Human societies evolve over time to weed out these mistake, or at least some of the most egregious examples of them. Thus, we should be cautious in make changes to established societal norms and proceed with caution and awareness that our vaunted reason could be flawed in some fashion. This leads me back to moral and immoral people. With all of these factors in play, we all must make guesses as to the best choice in any given situation. A moral person will sincerely try to make the best choices possible, including examining ones past choices based upon their final outcomes. Few immoral people choose immorality as a goal; rather they simply fail to consistently attempt to be moral, or fail to use the proper techniques for evaluating their decisions. Related to the concept of morality is the concept of punishment and law. This post has gone long enough, so I won’t get into detail on that now. Suffice it to say that while law should be moral, not all that is immoral should be defined by law or subject to punishment. As always, I welcome any comments. I don't know how clearly I have explained my thoughts in this post, and if you have any suggestions on how to clarify them, that would be nice. If you have any disagreements with what I have written I certainly welcome that as well.

Good news for Hillary

USATODAY.com: For the first time, a majority of Americans say they are likely to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton if she runs for president in 2008, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday. The survey shows that the New York senator and former first lady has broadened her support nationwide over the past two years, though she still provokes powerful feelings from those who oppose her. Clinton commands as much strong support -— but more strong opposition -— as George W. Bush did in a Newsweek poll in November 1998, two years before the 2000 election. She is in slightly stronger position than then-vice president Al Gore, the eventual 2000 Democratic nominee, was in 1998. 'Over time, Clinton fatigue has dissipated ... and people are looking back on the Clinton years more favorably,' says Andrew Kohut, director of the non-partisan Pew Research Center. In a Pew poll released this month, Kohut called former president Bill Clinton and the senator 'comeback kids' because of their rising ratings. 'This may also reflect that she has been recasting her image as a more moderate person,' he says.This is incredibly good news for Hillary. Right now she is running against 'unnamed Republican' a mythic figure people can paint their best hopes on. Once an actual Republican candidate emerges, they will have negatives too. Assuming no shenanigans with the methodology, this surver shows she has a great chance to be President. My gut feeling remains that Hillary's chances depend on who the Republicans nominate in 2008. If they nominate Guiliani or McCain, she will have a very tough time as they will be able to strongly target the center while Hillary hatred will keep the base in line. If the Republicans nominate Frist or another social conservative, Hillary will probably be able to snag the center from them, and the overwrought anti-Hillary rhetoric that is sure to emerge will drive even more moderates into her camp. Hillary will beat a strong social conservative by at least 5 points. Another factor that will be going for her is that Americans do tend to want periodic change. Absent a catastrophic event, by 2008 the terror war, while still going on, will have become a secondary issue in most peoples mind, like the cold war was in the 70s and 80s. It will matter, but it won't be many people's number one focus any more. Policy will be more or less established, and Hillary seems unlikely to reverse direction on any of that so the issue will not be polarizingng one. Economically, I expect things to be going quite well in 2008, but how much this will benefit the Republican ticket is questionable. Since I don't expect Cheney to run, it will be tough for the Republicans to gain a lot of traction on a successful economy. Issues such as education and health care, traditionally Democratic strong points will probably have a lot of play as well. One wild card that could really throw a wrench in Hillary's dreams is Condi Rice. She of course claims to have no interest in running for President, but if she decides to it will give Hillary some serious trouble. Rice could make signifigant inroads in both the Black and the Women demographics, enough to put pressure on traditionally safe issues. Like McCain or Guilianni she would profit from Hillary-hatred without having to concede the center. This is the race I would most like to see, it would be fascinating to watch it play out.

When Knives our outlawed, only outlaws will be chefs

The Scotsman:

LONG, pointed kitchen knives should be banned as part of a concerted effort to reduce the terrible injuries and deaths caused by stabbing attacks, doctors warned today. Accident and emergency medics claim the knives serve no useful purpose in the kitchen but are proving deadly on the streets of Britain, with the doctors claiming the knives are used in as many as half of all stabbings. The doctors claimed they had consulted leading chefs who said the knives were not needed for cooking - a claim disputed by chefs contacted by The Scotsman. Latest figures from the Scottish Executive show that in 2003, 55 of 108 homicide victims were stabbed by a sharp instrument - often a kitchen knife.
It is always interesting to see stories like this, and then here gun control advocates say with a straight face that there is no slipperly slope and the measure they are advocating will be the end of it. Sadly for Liberals, people can be nasty and brutish. We can manage to kill each other with our bare hands if need be, and some of us will do that if nothing else is availible. Humanity is not perfectable and the ingenuity of man will always find another weapon if people are denied one. Swift and certain justice for those who commit violence will do far more to reduce violence than trying to remove the ability to harm another ever will. (via Fine? Why Fine?)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bush Offers Abbas Public Support

New York Times:

President George W. Bush today pledged millions of dollars in direct American aid for the Palestinian Authority, providing a tangible lift and a verbal endorsement to its leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, during a symbolically important White House visit.
I am far from sure I approve of this. Abbas has indeed made some baby steps toward a democratic Palestine, but that is about all so far. I am still waiting for signs that he is a real reformed and commited to leading the Palestinians toward Democracy and abandoning terrorist tactics. Clinton famously invited Arafat to the Whitehouse, and gave him his symbolic support. Arafat repaid Clinton by launching the current intifada. Reform first, commit to democracy first, then you get your invite to the Whitehouse. Still, if it works, it works, and I'll be the first to admit I was wrong. I hope it does, but I wouldn't place any money on Abbas being the real deal yet.

Will Collier spreads Unsubstantiated Rumors...


I'm hearing quite a bit of chatter through the USAF contractor grapevine that Zarqawi is dead. The only reason I mention it here is, the rumor is apparently rampant at Hurlburt AFB, home of the Air Force Special Ops guys, some of whom would be in a position to know such things.
I for one won't shed any tears if this turns out to be true.

Economic Decline in Europe

This Times Online article about why the Europeans seem so opposed to the EU constitution in interesting:

But before we assume that the federalists will simply give up in desperation, it is worth considering another possible explanation for the popular revolt against European elites. In Sunday’s German election, which effectively destroyed Gerhard Schroder’s Government, his recent ratification of the EU constitution was not even an issue and Europe was far from the voters’ minds. Two months earlier, the Berlusconi Government suffered a similar fate in Italy, a country where Euro-enthusiasm remains undimmed. Why did this happen? In my view, the answer is simple: it’s the economy, stupid. As regular readers of this column may be aware, I have always argued against economic determinism in British or US politics. But that is because the British and American economies have on the whole been performing well since 1992. Europe, meanwhile, has become an economic disaster. The people of France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands may be angry about globalisation or ultra-liberalism or immigration, but this reflects a deeper malaise. Their living standards are falling, their pensions are in danger, their children are jobless and their national pride is turning into embarrassment and even shame. In sum, they feel that their countries, which numbered among the world’s richest and most powerful nations as recently as the middle of the last decade, have gone to the dogs under the leadership of the present generation of politicians. And, at least in the economic sense, they are absolutely right.
I have been watching developments in Europe with growing concern. I am not convinced that Europe has permanently abandoned it's totalitarian tendancies, and this sort of economic malaise could give rise to a new expression of that tendancy. Hopefully they will figure things out, but they have huge obstacles to overcome.

'For love and for country'

This USATODAY story about military families is a must read.

Military families make the conscious decision to be engaged in 'extreme citizenship.' When we are called, we will stand. We choose this life understanding that there is a constitutional role for the military. That role is not to make policy, but to respond with ability and honor when called to action by our nation's elected leaders. No one — war critic or advocate — could want the military to behave otherwise. It's called civilian control of the military, and it's a bulwark of our democracy.
I want to add my personal respect for our men and women in uniform and their families. I know how difficult it can be and my gratitude for their sacrafices is immense. Take some extra time this memorial day weekend to think on those who have sacrificed for America, and those who currently are sacrificing for our nation. If you want to support our troops with more than just words, I suggest Operation Uplink as a good way to do that.

Non to EU Constitution


A new opinion poll on Thursday put France firmly on course to reject the European Union's new constitution, increasing pressure on President Jacques Chirac before his final plea to voters to back the charter. Chirac was due to make a nationwide television address at 8:00 p.m. (1800 GMT), seen as his last chance to persuade voters not to use Sunday's referendum to punish him and his government for unpopular economic policies. A French rejection of the constitution could kill the charter, undermining France's role in the 25-member bloc and causing a crisis of confidence in the EU that delays integration of new member states and raises jitters on financial markets.
I am in favor of the EU, and think greater unity in Europe is a good thing for the world. However, from what I have seen on the EU constitution they really need to rework their thoughts of how to govern. The EU constitution is a beaurocrats wet dream, but is not very democratic and worst of all, not adaptable to changing circumstances. Good luck to the EU, but I think they are better off without this constitution.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Cafta and Sugar Quotas

OpinionJournal :

The American sugar industry is so strongly advantaged by quotas, tariffs and subsidies that total sugar imports have declined by about a third since the 1990s. Cafta would allow additional sugar imports from the Central American nations totaling 107,000 metric tons in the first year. Annual U.S. sugar production is about 7.8 million metric tons, so the effect of Cafta is to raise sugar imports into America by about one day's sugar production, or as Mr. Portman puts it, 'approximately one teaspoon of sugar per week per adult American.' That threat--a teaspoon of sugar a week--has caused the U.S. sugar lobby to focus its efforts on killing Cafta. And it may succeed. The U.S. government agreed not to free up the sugar market in the 2004 trade pact with Australia. American sugar producers claim they are not against free trade. But only trade agreements approved by the World Trade Organization are acceptable to them; any trade agreements reached between America and other nations evidently are not. American sugar imports would depress sugar prices, they say. Well, American sugar prices today are about three times the world market's, so some price reduction would be good for Americans, just as lower gasoline prices would be.
I am a huge fan of free trade. I will concede to the applicability of using tarrifs and other protectionist measure against countries that 'cheat' in some other fashion, refussal to honor our intellectual property for example, but tarrifs purely as a protectionist measure are just plain wrong. They hurt our citizens far more than they help them and they can be crippling to developing nations. Trade is a deal where everyone wins, and protectionism makes everyone lose. Our sugar tariffs are amoung the most aggregious anti-trade policies we have. We should unilaterally do away with them, if we can get a regional free trade deal in the process, so much the better.

Dick Morris on Senate Judicial Deal

Morris evaluates the power ramifications of the Senate deal, and how this may represent a fundamental shift in how things stack up in other negotiations in The Hill:

But whatever their motives, let’s celebrate the fact that there now exists, in effect, a third-party caucus in the Senate of moderates from both parties. They may offer a chance for us to be rid of the reflexive and revolting partisanship that has led to government shutdowns and presidential impeachments, each equally abhorrent to most voters. We can only hope that this new middle of the Senate will take the agenda away from the extremes in each party and bring government back to the middle, where it belongs.
It will be interesting to see if this plays out or not. The Parties do have considerable power to punish dissenters, too much power in my opinion. Certainly I probably align politically with the 'moderates' more often then not. One thing that makes this coalition unlikely to last, in my opinion is that while the moderates on the Republican side have a history of being moderate the Democratic moderates, as Morris analyzes, pretty much came out of no where. Will they be moderate on other issues, or did they just feel the need to save the nomination filibuster?

Phase Change Memory


Macronix, Infineon, and IBM are combining efforts to investigate the potential of a new kind of computer memory that may change the face of processing. It's called phase-change memory (PCM). Still in the early stages of development, researchers for the tech giants report that PCM uses a method of data storage that works by changing the state of special material from an amorphous structure to a crystalline structure instead of being stored as an electrical charge. All that technical jargon translates to the possibility of high-speed, high-density memory, working more similarly to the human brain, i.e., and electrically charged chemical soup that maintains data even when the power is turned off.
Way cool!

Orson Scott Card reviews Revenge of the Sith

As Good As Lord of the Rings, Except for the Writing. He is both critical of the movie (especially the dialogue) and forgiving of it. I agree with him pretty much. This bit struck a cord with me though:

For we know, at some level, that the tale has some truth in it. That people rarely embrace evil for its own sake, but rather because they think they can accomplish something good. That once you cross certain moral lines, it becomes almost trivial to cross others. That no matter how much you tell yourself you're doing it for someone you love, ultimately ambition is always selfish, and 'love' is self-deception. That those who have the power always think they have the right to decide for everyone, and the wisdom to know what ought to be done. That technology does not change human nature. That there is something inside us more powerful than machines or muscles, something that by force of will and mind can change the world around us, if only we learn the secret and master it.
This is what is good, perhaps even great, about the Star Wars saga. The special effects may be great, the dialogue may be atrocious, but what really matters is that at the heart of all of these films are truths that we so often take for granted that being reminded of them is sublime.

Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes

capnwacky.com gives us this delightful tour of Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes. (via Riding Sun)

The Carnival Of Revolutions.

Click on Image to visit the carnival
In this time, in our time, we're witnessing history unfolding every day, a spontaneous explosion of political activity breaking out around the world. We've seen it in Ukraine. We've seen it in Lebanon. But it's happening in countless other (often neglected) places. There is so much happening, it's often hard to keep up. The Carnival of Revolutions tries to provide a useful summary of the past week's progress on the march of freedom in the world.
Lots of interesting stuff, go check it out. (via Instapundit)

Al-Zarqawi has Fled Iraq?


An Islamic website statement claimed today that Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaida in Iraq chief, has fled to an unidentified “neighbouring country” with two Arab doctors treating him for gunshot wounds to his lung. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the claim. The site used to carry al Qaida postings, but has fallen out of use recently. Soon, the posting appeared on another militant site, where it quickly came under attack from other posters as untrue and unauthorised by al Qaida. The statement from somebody identified only as al-Khalidi – the same name as a regular poster for the site in the past – said the information was based on accounts of “brothers close to the holy warriors in Iraq and who are in contact with them.” He did not elaborate.
I saw this yesterday, and did not comment then, obviously this is unverified and it's accuracy is questionable. It would be nice if it were true though. From a larger perspective, even if this story is fake, it may be accurate as CBS would say. Bloomberg.com:
About 1,000 U.S. Marines, sailors and members of Iraq's security forces encircled the western Iraqi city of Haditha today in the second offensive against insurgents in the region this month, the U.S. military said. Six insurgents were killed and two Marines were wounded in a gun battle at 4 a.m. local time, the military said. Residents identified one of the attackers as an imam, the U.S. said. The action is aimed at ``maintaining the pressure on insurgents that began with Operation Matador,'' in which 125 militants were killed and 39 arrested, the military said in e- mailed statements. Nine U.S. Marines died and 40 others were wounded in the May 7-14 offensive, the military said.
By all acounts military pressure on the insurgency is rising and ordinary Iraqi's are becoming more and more willing to become involved. If Zarqawi is not currently killed, captured, or fled, it is only a matter of time. Check out this Iraq the Model post as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Gateway Pundit: Zimbabwe Collapsing

This Gateway Pundit post about Zimbabwe is well worth reading, tragic though it is. This is certainly one of those cases where it seems like there must be something we can do to help, and yet there is nothing that I can think of that we can do that would do any good. (via Instapundit)

Ban on Iran reformists reversed


Iran's hardline Guardian Council watchdog has reversed its ban on two reformists excluded from presidential elections on June 17, easing a row that had sparked some calls for a boycott of the vote. The reinstatement of former Education Minister Mostafa Moin and Vice President for Sports Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh on Tuesday raised the number of candidates to eight and made the election outcome harder to predict. It followed the intervention of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word in all state matters. Khamenei took the unusual step on Monday of urging the Guardian Council to overturn its disqualification of the two reformists. Khamenei has said a broad range of candidates is essential to encourage the high voter turnout needed to send a message to Iran's enemies at a time when the Islamic state faces heightened pressure from Washington which accuses Tehran of building nuclear weapons and backing terrorism.
This seems to be a positive development. I'll be keeping an eye on Iran over the next month or so, it may turn out to be a very interesting election season there.

Senate Cease-Fire- for now...

The Washington Post, Howard Kurtz writes:

No nuclear war -- wow! It doesn't get more exciting than this!!! Now we can all spend the next few days firing shots about who won and who lost in last night's typically mushy Senate compromise. You can't even explain it in 10 seconds -- some Bush nominees get filibustered, some don't, and the Democrats promise to use the weapon only in 'extreme circumstances,' which frankly can mean anything they want it to mean. No wonder both Bill Frist and Harry Reid were declaring victory. I confess: I've had a hard time getting excited over the filibuster showdown as a great clash of principles. The reason: You know that if a Republican minority were blocking a Democratic president's judicial nominees, nearly everyone, from lawmakers to commentators, who is now passionately defending or denouncing Senate talkathons, would be taking the opposite position. This whole thing reeks of hypocrisy.
That is about how I feel about the situation. Based upon this deal, Bush won for now. We will see this issue again when a Supreme Court nominee comes up most likely. The deal may hold together though, if the right decides that it is best not to try and press their advantage too far and if the left decides that extreme circumstances means something. Of course if they had acted that way to begin with this would never have been an issue.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Taboo Test Discussion

I posted my results from the Taboo Test the other day, and I indicated in the comments to that post that I would like to explore the scenarios in detail and explain my answers and the reasons I gave them. I would suggest that if you are interesting in taking this test, you do so now before you read the posts below as they may spoil the expirience. As always, any comments on these answers would be welcome. Moral Intuitions These first questions are to establish a baseline.

1. A small boy is playing happily on a swing in a local playground when an older girl pushes him off and hurts him for no other reason than that she wants to play on the swing. Are her actions morally wrong?
Most people would agree that this is wrong, hurting another to get what you want is considered bad by most everyone.
Is it possible that an action is morally wrong solely for the reason that it harms the person undertaking the action? For example, might it be morally wrong to smoke just because it harms the smoker and for no other reason?
I answered yes on this as well, more on my thinking on this in a moment.
Is it possible something might be morally wrong for no other reason than that God determines that it is wrong? For example, imagine that God has declared that drinking water is wrong, and when she is asked why she replies honestly "for no other reason than that I say it is."
I don't subscribe to the theological arguement that "God is Good" represents a symetric property of equality. I ascribe to the idea that Goodness is a seperate attribute that God possesses. Therefore, I answered no on this statement. However, that does not necessarily mean that an omniscient being could understand moral implications better, and might decline to explain it's reasoning.
Can an individual action be morally wrong if it is entirely private and no-one, not even the person doing the act, is harmed by it at all?
This statement is really the meat of this survey. I answered yes here. Not doing harm is, in my mind anyway, the beginning point, not the ending of morality. This would also relate to the idea of an action being immoral even if it harms only oneself. Perhaps I have a higher standard of morality, but the ultimate morality to me is choosing the best out of all possible choices. This is of course an unobtainable standard, so no one is perfectly moral (leaving aside possible divine beings anyway.) As a comfort to us fallible humans though, it is equally impossible to be perfectly immoral. No one can always make the worst choice either.
Do you think that morality comes from God or some other source outside of nature, society and human judgement?
I answered no here, as should be unsurprising given my previous explanations. If morality is defined as the best possible choice, than it is a thing into and of itself, so it would arrise from nature. Now, as to the question which is somewhat implied, but not asked, of how knowledge of which choice is best, can be gained I remain uncertain. Human society gives us some good guidlines, but it falls down often as well. Reason can often provide useful answers, but certainly our knowedge and capabilities to think are imperfect and can never yeild perfect morality. As I have mentioned in other post, many people I admire seem to get excellent mileage on the question from communion with the divine, so that is something I do not mock, although I remain quite aware of the extreme immorality that has been practiced in the name of God, or Gods, historically. For myself, I try to use reason combined with a respect for evolved societal norms to determine morality. Cognizant of the limitations of my own reason, I am hesitant to judge what society has evolved as norms to be immoral without long thought and a strong degree of certainty.

Taboo Scenario 1: Cleaning with the Flag

A woman was cleaning out her closet. She came across the flag of your home country (it's a coincidence!). She didn't want the flag, so she cut it into pieces so she could use it to clean her bathroom. Is anybody harmed by this use of the flag?
Would it bother you to observe this woman using your home country's flag to clean her bathroom?
How do you judge the woman's act of cleaning her bathroom with your home country's flag?
Not Wrong at all
Should the woman be prevented from using your country's flag in this way or punished in some way for having used it already to clean her bathroom? [Note: if you think that either or both of these things should occur then you should answer 'Yes'; only answer 'No', if you think neither of these things should occur.]
Suppose you learn about two foreign countries. In one country, it is normal to use your country's flag to clean bathrooms. In the other, your country's flag is never used to clean a bathroom. Are both these customs okay morally speaking or is one of them bad or morally wrong?
Both are Ok. A flag of course is merely a symbol of something else. The example makes it clear that for this woman, the symbol has no meaning. I do think that it is immoral to purposefully, and without good reason, damage a symbol that someone else values (Flushing a Koran down a toilet for example.) For me, the American flag represents many things, from the sacrifice of many to grant me to freedom I enjoy to the very concepts of liberty and democracy. I firmly believe those to be good and moral ideals, and I would consider anyone who purposefully desecrated their own symbols of those ideals to be behaving in an immoral fashion. Desecration is itself is a symbolic act so what is desecration in one person's mind may not be in another. Symbols have no inherent meaning, so moral relativism is an appropriate way to view symbols and symbolic acts. It is also interesting, and worth noting, that the first scenario (and the subsequent ones follow this pattern) brings up the subject of punishment, which interestingly is not mentioned in the baseline questions at all. It seems to be that their is an assumption that morality and punishment should be always related, i.e. that which is immoral should be punished. I will discuss this further in some of the other scenarios.

Taboo Scenario 2: Lying to your dead mother

An old woman was very ill. On her deathbed she asked her son to promise that he would visit her grave at least once a week. The son didn't want to disappoint his mother, so he promised that he would. But after his mother died, he didn't keep his promise. He was too busy. He didn't tell anyone about his promise, and he has never felt guilty for failing to do as he said he would. Is anyone harmed by the failure of the son to visit his mother's grave once a week as he promised?
I believe that the man was harmed by his failure to keep his promise. Although the scenarios attempt to be free from direct harm, the attempt to establish that he did not harm himself is due to the fact that he did not feel guilty. Guilt is not a totally accurate indicator of moral harm, anymore than pain is a totally accurate indicator of physical harm. People can of course feel guilty when they have no reason to, and equally they can fail to feel guilty when they should. Keeping a promise is a test of character, and failing to do so, indicates a lack of character and hence a lack of morality.
Would it bother you to spend a lot of time with someone if you knew that they had not kept this kind of promise?
Yes, it would. That doesn't mean I would not spend time with someone who did this, but I would think less of them if I knew about it. Certainly I would have less trust in them than I would otherwise. Now, I don't think necessarily any promise can, or should be kept indefinitely. Sometimes we promise to do things that we later decide are unfeasible, or even undesirable. It is sometimes ok to renegotiate the deal, and in a case like this, that renegotiation would have to be done unilaterally. The aspect of the scenario that bothers me is less that the son choose to not visit his mother's grave, but the seeming unimportance he places on his sworn word. Deciding that it keeping this promise is no longer necessary is one thing, treating the promise itself as unimportant is another.
How do you judge the failure of the son to visit his mother's grave once a week as he promised?
Wrong. I should mention that this question in each of the series has wrong, a little wrong, and not wrong at all as choices. I don't hold much with the 'a little wrong' answer. I would probably apply such a description to a wrong choice that was made quickly and without much consideration and was not clearly wrong without introspection. While it is unclear how much introspection the characters in the scenarios are doing, the test itself forces us to do a great deal of introspection, and thus the answers generally become quite clear.
Should the son be made to keep his promise or punished in some way for failing to visit his mother's grave once a week? [Note: if you think that either or both of these things should occur then you should answer 'Yes'; only answer 'No', if you think neither of these things should occur.]
Now is a good time to talk about punishment, since I don't think this person should be punished, at least directly, for this action. Punishment is where the harm principle comes into play in my view. If an action does not harm anyone else, it should not be punished. Now, you can make arguments about indirect harm, and whether punishment is appropriate of not for that circumstance. Of course there is a difference between consequences and punishment. If many people come to know this person places no value on their promises, then as a consequence, people will be disinclined to associate with that person because they do not value their own word. That is not the same as punishment, although like punishment it may motivate more moral behavior. Punishment in my opinion is opposing not intrinsic, or extra, consequences on a choice. When the nature of the harm is not clear, we should be very careful about imposing any punishments.
Suppose you learn about two foreign countries. In one country, it is normal for a son to break a death-bed promise to his mother to visit her grave every week. In the other, if a son has made such a promise, then it is normal for him to keep his word. Are both these customs okay morally speaking or is one of them bad or morally wrong?
I believe that any culture which does not value the keeping of one's word to be morally wrong. Now, if the definition of the term promise is different from one country to another, in the lying country a it is known by everyone that this sort of death-bed pronouncement is known by everyone, the mother included, to be merely a polite nothing, that would be different. However, the term promise usually means something, and the scenario does not indicate that a promise is not equally regarded in both countries, merely that the one country consistently fails to abide by their promise.

Taboo Scenario 3: Eating your Pets

A family's cat was killed by a car in front of their home. They had heard that cat meat was very tasty, so they cut up the cat, cooked it and ate it for dinner. To date, they have never regretted the decision and they have not suffered any harm as a result of cooking and eating the cat. Is anyone harmed by the family's eating of their family pet?
Clearly not.
Would it bother you to see a family eating a pet which had been killed in a car accident?
No, although it might bother me to see them eating my pet.
How do you judge the actions of the family in eating their pet cat?
Not wrong at all
Should the family be prevented from eating any of their future pets or punished in some way for eating this pet? [Note: if you think that either or both of these things should occur then you should answer 'Yes'; only answer 'No', if you think neither of these things should occur.]
No, although it may be appropriate to institute health codes, and roadkill might well fall under this category. I assume though, that the question is focusing on whether the status of the animal as a pet, as opposed to an animal raised for food deserves punishment and I find no reason to treat the two categories differently.
Suppose you learn about two foreign countries. In one country, it is normal to eat the family pet if it is killed in a road accident. In the other, pets killed in road accidents are not normally eaten. Are both these customs okay morally speaking or is one of them bad or morally wrong?
Both are Ok.

Taboo Scenario 4: Incest is Best

Sarah and Peter were brother and sister. They were on vacation together away from home. One night they were staying alone in a tent on a beach. They decided it would be fun to have sex. They were both more than 21 years old. They had sex and enjoyed it. They knew that for medical reasons Sarah could not get pregnant. They decided not to have sex with each other again, but they never regretted having had sex once. In fact, it remained a positive experience for them throughout their lives. It also remained entirely their secret (until now!). Is anyone harmed by Sarah and Peter's actions?
I answered that I didn't know on this one. Obviously, no one was directly harmed, but one can make a case that this sort of behavior, can indirectly harm the family structure and weaken the incest taboo itself. Their are certainly good reasons for incest to be taboo, although certainly the most obvious does not apply to Sarah. Although it has remained a secret, the potential always exists for the secret to become known, and that could I believe cause harm, but that has not apparently happened yet. One could also assert that even though they regard this event as a positive experience it has indeed harmed them. So as to whether this has caused harm, I am conflicted.
Would you be more bothered watching a brother and sister you don't know having sex together than you would watching two strangers not related to each other?
Yes, that would indeed bother me.
How do you judge Sarah and Peter's actions?
I judge them to be wrong.
If their sexual liaison had been known about, should steps have been taken to prevent them from having sex together again (assuming such steps were possible) or should they have been punished for having had sex together once? [Note: if you think that either or both of these things should occur then you should answer 'Yes'; only answer 'No', if you think neither of these things should occur.]
I believe that they should be prevented from doing this again, and can legitimately be punished for what they did. Once we are talking about the possibility of punishment, it is apparent that their actions now are known, and as I indicated above, I think that incest can damage both the family structure itself, and that their is sound reason for it to be a taboo. Of course there are parallels here with gay marriage, as social conservatives who are opposed to gay marriage frequently claim. While I am in favor of legalizing gay marriage, I do have sympathy for the argument that nebulous, and unexpected damage to the family structure could result from such an event. I think that while this could happen, it seems to be a remote enough possibility, and there seem to be enough other benefits of gay marriage that we should risk this. The likelihood of legal and relatively common incest being damaging to families seems far greater to me. This is one reason I think gay marriage should be legislated in existence, not mandated by courts on the basis of an individual right to marry. The two examples (non-reproductive adult incest and gay marriage) seem identical to me on the basis of individual rights, they are only different in their effect on society, and accepting those consequences should be a legislative, not judicial decision.
Suppose you learn about two foreign countries. In one country, it is normal for brothers and sisters to have sex with each other on one occasion if the sister is infertile. In the other, brothers and sisters never have sex with each other. Are both these customs okay morally speaking or is one of them bad and morally wrong?
I had to think about this one for a bit. One could postulate alternate family structures and societies that have developed along lines where this would cause no direct or indirect harm. However, that seems to be adding a bit more to the scenario than is there. We are given no information as to what effect this activity has on the incestuous country. So, I felt that in the end, I have to go with my belief that this would cause harm, and therefore the incestuous country is bad.

Taboo Scenario 5: The Chicken

A man goes to his local grocery store once a week and buys a frozen chicken. But before cooking and eating the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it. He never tells anyone about what he does, never regrets it and never shows any ill effects from behaving this way. He remains an upstanding member of his community. Is anyone harmed by this man's sexual activities with a chicken (assume there are no ethical problems with meat eating!)?
Would it bother you to see this man having sex with a chicken?
Oh yes, it most definitely would.
How do you judge this man's actions (assume there are no ethical problems with meat eating!)?
I had to say not wrong at all, or at least no worse wrong than other methods of self stimulation, which I don't believe to be morally wrong. Now, if the bastard feeds me the chicken, that is a different thing altogether.
Should his poultry lovin' be prevented (assuming we know about it) or should he be punished for it? [Note: if you think that either or both of these things should occur then you should answer 'Yes'; only answer 'No', if you think neither of these things should occur.]
Since it isn't technically wrong, at least as long as he doesn't feed it to anyone else without letting them know, he should not be punished. However, I certainly don't hold people not wanting to go to his house for dinner to be punishment.
Suppose you learn about two foreign countries. In one country, it is normal for people to have secret sex with dead chickens. In the other, people don't in the normal course of events have intercourse with frozen poultry. Are both these customs okay morally speaking or is one of them bad and morally wrong?
From a moral point of view, both are ok. However, I would be deeply disturbed to find out that an entire nation of frozen chicken fuckers existed. That is the end of the test. I would welcome any comments on any of my thinking on these scenarios. I have to say though, that I fear the google hits I might get from this last one...

Protests in Iran

Reuters AlertNet:

Iranian students, often the spearhead of the bludgeoned reformist movement, on Monday protested against the banning of presidential candidates, chanting slogans against the authorities. A Reuters witness said 100 to 150 students were clapping, whistling and shouting 'down with dictators' from inside their university dormitory in central Tehran. About 50 ventured out into the street, but were pushed back inside by a line of police. The students then began to chant 'down with the police'.
Obviously this is a fairly small protest. This is something to keep an eye on though. Right now, Iran probably feels fairly free to repress it's people as much as it needs to keep control. However, as increased tensions over nuclear programs raise the stakes they have got to be increasingly worried about U.S. action, and a violent clash with their own people could escalate the situation to that level. That is of course on reason they want nukes, they believe that the U.S. would not dare to intervene if they had them. I am not so sure they are right about that, but there is logic to that position. My hope remains that the students and reformers of Iran will be able to mobilize sufficient people to change the regime from within, without direct U.S. assistance. If the regular army and police refuse to crack down on a popular demonstration, this could happen quite quickly. Of course the Iranian regime has prepared for this as well, they have imported foreign jihadists to serve as a revolutionary guard (not unlike the Saddam Fedayeen) who will certainly have the will to fire on civilians. Faced with a large enough popular movement though, there is a fair chance that these thugs will turn and run. Every success in Iraq makes such an event in Iran more likely, and every setback delays the day of reckoning for the Iranian mullahs. The mullahs are aware of this as well, which is why they have taken steps to promote chaos and discord in Iraq.

The End of War?

This article in The New Republic Online is interesting reading. It argues that the number of wars, and the global risk of dying in war, have gone down steadily since 1991. While many reasons are explored, there is one that seems to be missing, although the evidence is present right in the article:

The striking decline in global military spending has also received no attention from the press, which continues to promote the notion of a world staggering under the weight of instruments of destruction. Only a few nations, most prominently the United States, have increased their defense spending in the last decade. Today, the United States accounts for 44 percent of world military spending; if current trends continue, with many nations reducing defense spending while the United States continues to increase such spending as its military is restructured for new global anti-terrorism and peacekeeping roles, it is not out of the question that, in the future, the United States will spend more on arms and soldiers than the rest of the world combined.
This point is made in the article as a means of discussing whether the decrease in spending is a cause, or a result, of the overall decline in war. However, it seems to me to be far more significant than that. War is, in my opinion, on the decline because one nation weilds effective military hegemony, and that nation (America) is not perceived by it's potential competitors to be a threat. Yes, I know that anti-Americanism and claims of America being a rogue nation abound, but if other nations of the world, particularly the other developed nations, really believed that they would be increasing, not decreasing their military spending. War doesn't pay for most nations, because they know that they cannot win, and the risk of trying is greater than the any possible gains. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait proved that fairly effectively and his subsequent complete fall has only reinforced that lessen. While I am an optomistic person, I am not a utopian. This is most likely a temporary state. The Pax Romana eventually ended when Rome grew complacent and reduced it's military spending. The Legions soon became a hollow shell of what they once were, and the barbarians attacked. The same scenario is quite feasible with the Pax Americana. The price of peace is eternal vigilance, but the pressence of peace quite naturally reduces the tendency to be vigilant.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Great Video

Kosovo (via The unpopulist, where Rob of Fine? Why Fine? is guest blogging.)

Altruistic Punishment and Genetic Engineering dangers

This FuturePundit post is thought provoking.:

Political scientist James Fowler has created a mathematical model of human behavior that suggests that 'moralists' who voluntarily pay a cost to punish 'misbehavers' can come to dominate a population and ensure cooperation among its members. 'This may help explain mass political behaviors like voting,' Fowler said. 'When individuals say, 'It doesn't really matter if I vote,' others -- programmed genetically or by social norms -- may seek to punish them, even though it means a self-sacrifice.' He believes that humans may have physically or developmentally evolved to altruistic punishment. Previous studies found that 'acting the moralist' stimulates the reward center in the brain. ... The urge to dole out altruistic punishment must have a genetic basis. When germ line genetic engineering (i.e. genetic engineering done on eggs, sperm, and embryos) becomes feasible one of my fears is that key genetically controlled qualities of human nature will be modified by parents and governments in ways that will threaten civilization. Genetic engineering to raise testosterone levels and dominance behavior would have obvious political consequences. But the urge to altruistically punish others is another crucial component of human nature which is going to become more or less strongly felt in future generations as a result of germ line genetic engineering.
Interesting things to think about. It is obvious to most people (Objectivists are the major exception) that traits that are best for an individual are not necessarily best for society. We certainly need our dominant individuals for example, but if we were all highly dominant chaos would result. Someone has to be willing to follow. I am in favor of Genetic Engineering. I don't think that nature is either wise or kind and that meddling with it can be a very good thing. However, that doesn't mean one should throw caution to the wind either. My biggest fear is not that any specific genetic changes will be made or expiramented with, my fear is that a few traits will be seen as universally desirable, and there will be a lack of diversity in the species. There are about a billion ways that such a thing could really hurt us. The best defense against this, in my opinion, is to make sure to keep Government as far away from this as possible. Diverse people will probably choose diverse traits to magnify or remove from their offspring. Governments on the other hand, obsessed with equality and mired in procedure would gravitate toward a single standard.

Celibacy and Star Wars

This PunditGuy post is making the rounds of the blogosphere this morning. It compares the Jedi to Catholic priests and claims that Anakin's fall, resulting greatly from his marriage to Amidala, can be seen as support for the Catholic Church's requirement that it's priests be Celibate. I doubt that is something that Lucas intended, but an interesting idea anyway. I think that Catholic Priests being celibate is a mistake that the Catholic Church has made. However, not being Catholic, it is not a huge concern of mine. The various reasons advanced for Celibacy by different cultures and individuals are interesting however. I think we can safely dismiss the notion of females being a naturally corrupting influence or sex being evil in and of itself without further comment. There are however two other interesting reasons for a Celibate or monastic life that I have seen. One, mentioned in this Anchoress post on the post above is:

Yes, Jedi are celibate, just like Catholic priests (and for that matter, Buddhist monks, who never seemto take any heat for their celibacy.) I have had many conversations re celibacy with both. A Buddhist monk once told me that celibacy was seen as means of conserving the particular “chi” or “kundalini” or force, or energy of sexuality, which is “life-giving,” in order that that energy may be “converted,” so to speak, into something higher and finer, for the benefit not only of themselves but of the world. “In that chi,” he told me, “there is healing and renewal, for the world.” Celibate catholic priests, including one in my family, have said something similar to me - that by not using their sexual energy, they are able to “offer it” for the world. Heck, for that matter, I recall once reading Al Pacino say he always went celibate when he prepared for a new role because the stored sexual energy added force to his performance. (He screams so much, lately, I wonder if he shouldn’t have sex, instead.)
I don't have much to add on this. If, or how, abstaining from sexual release allows energy to be converted to another purpose such things are a mystery to me, and not one that I intend to explore. There is however, another fully rational reason for an organization or group to promote celibacy. Loyalty. One of the best explanations of this concept can be found in A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (I highly recommend the series if you like Fantasy and have the patience to wait for the series to be finished.) It is explained well in this summary of the novel:
Aemon tells Jon why the sworn brothers do not wed, and it is because love is the bane of honor and duty, and the Night’s Watch cannot afford men with divided loyalties. He tells Jon that a day comes in every man’s life when he must choose between his vows of duty and his loyalty toward his family.
This, I think, is the best explanation for Anakin's failure. We are designed, by God or nature, to be willing to abandon all else for the one we love when needed. For the most part, this is a good thing, but certainly one can make the argument that when a higher purpose needs to be served, when the guardianship of humanity is on the shoulders of a select group that loyalty to that group must not be challenged by anything else. Historically of course, one can make good claims that this was the primary motivation for the Catholic Church's demand for celibate priests as well. Whether the duties of a Priest are similar enough to those the Jedi Order, or the sworn brothers of the Night's Watch, is something I will not comment in detail on. Suffice it to say, I have my doubts. This need for absolute unwavering loyalty is not readily apparent in most aspects of our modern world (which is probably a good thing, as we would probably have great difficulty in finding recruits) but one can readily imagine a Secret Service agent, for example, being willing to die for the President, but being unwilling to let his wife and child die in order to protect the President. Certainly it is clear that at times at least, love is the bane of honor and duty. Anakin would agree with that.

Torture in Afghanistan

This New York Times article is disturbing reading. Read it anyway. It is important that we understand what has happened and why. Let me first say that this strikes me as being very good reporting. The New York Times seems to have gone to great lengths to make sure they covered it completely and reported it factually. They follow up on the status of the military investigations and make clear what happened, and what has been done about it since. If we are going to criticize the media, me also owe it to them to acknowledge what they do right. I won't repeat any of the details of the tortures and abuses that took place in Bagram here, but I do want to focus on one paragraph in the article that I think is the major factor in what went wrong.

The new interrogation unit that arrived in July 2002 had been improvised as well. Captain Wood, then a 32-year-old lieutenant, came with 13 soldiers from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C.; six Arabic-speaking reservists were added from the Utah National Guard. Part of the new group, which was consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, was made up of counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers had ever questioned actual prisoners. What specialized training the unit received came on the job, in sessions with two interrogators who had worked in the prison for a few months. "There was nothing that prepared us for running an interrogation operation" like the one at Bagram, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sgt. Steven W. Loring, later told investigators.
Interogation and Jailing of prisoners is specialized and demanding work. This should never be a job for amateurs. In all honesty, we do a crappy job of dealing with this issue in our domestic prisons, and there we expect more training than this. The standards should be at least as high for military detention personal. One could make a claim that the standards should be even higher for military detentions, due to the fact that military detentions are sure to contain, at least temporarily, a large number of innocent people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Personally, I think we would do well to improve conditions at both domestic prisons and the military detention facilities and not worry too much about which is more important. The bottom line here, is we certainly did not, and probably still do not, have enough properly trained people to serve as guards and interogators at these facilities. In addition, it certainly appears that the directives were no where clear enough about what was, and was not, proper behavior, and insufficient, or inept, supervision by superior officers further allowed the situation to get out of hand. Some of those things were preventable in 2002, all of those things are areas that we can improve now. I believe that the military has taken at least some of the proper steps for mitigating this sort of problem (abuses will happen occassionaly under the best system, but systematic torture can, and must, be curtailed.) The techniques that interrogators can use have been clarified. Hopefully, the Officers in charge of these detention facilities have gotten the message that they are responsible for keeping this sort of thing from happening. I expect that we still do not have enough properly trained guards and interogators but that is something that will take time, even if proper attention is being paid toward making this a priority. I have mentioned before that I think we need a 'nation building' branch of the armed forces. Among the duties of such a branch would be prisoner detention and interrogations. Having such a branch would help make this a proper priority for training and would, I believe, greatly help mitigate such things in the future. (article via Instapundit)

Treat them like Grownups

Tom Friedman inThe New York Times:

The fact that the White House spokesman Scott McClellan spent part of his briefing on Tuesday excoriating Newsweek - and telling its editors that they had a responsibility to 'help repair the damage' to America's standing in the Arab-Muslim world - while not offering a single word of condemnation for those who went out and killed 16 people in Afghanistan in riots linked to a Newsweek report, pretty much explains why we're struggling to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world today. We are spending way too much time debating with ourselves, or playing defense, and way too little time actually looking Arab Muslims in the eye and telling them the truth as we see it. ... And in part this is because we are afraid to say the truth, because we - wrongly - believe these people are incapable of rational thought and will just react violently. Therefore, if we have an information campaign, it must all be about explaining to them who we are, and why we are not bad people, and why Newsweek made a mistake. It must never involve us asking who they are and why they are behaving in ways that don't live up to the values they profess. Instead of sending Mr. McClellan out to flog Newsweek, President Bush should have said: "Let me say first to all Muslims that desecrating anyone's holy book is utterly wrong. These allegations will be investigated, and any such behavior will be punished. That is how we Americans intend to look in the mirror. But we think the Arab-Muslim world must also look in the mirror when it comes to how it has been behaving toward an even worse crime than the desecration of God's words, and that is the desecration of God's creations. In reaction to an unsubstantiated Newsweek story, Muslims killed 16 other Muslims in Afghanistan in rioting, and no one has raised a peep - as if it were a totally logical reaction. That is wrong. ... The greatest respect we can show to Arabs and Muslims - and the best way to help Muslim progressives win the war of ideas - is to take them seriously and stop gazing at our own navels. That means demanding that they answer for their lies, hypocrisy and profane behavior, just as much as we must answer for ours.
I agree completely, as I have mentioned previously. It is both hypocritical and foolish to embark attempt to democratize the middle east while simultaneously holding the belief that Muslims are by nature irresponsible and unable to control themselves. Newsweek appears to have been wrong. Flushing a Koran down a toilet is wrong. Killing a bunch of people because some other people have offended you is WAY WAY WRONG. I strongly believe that Muslims, Arabs, and all people, are fully capable of being adults and taking responsibility for themselves. There are exceptions of course, both here and there, but to infantilize an entire ethnicity is about as disgusting as racism gets.

I see London, I see France ...

United Press International:

The U.S. military has condemned a British newspaper for publishing photographs of Saddam Hussein -- one shows the ex-Iraqi leader in his underwear. The Sun said it obtained the photos from 'U.S. military sources,' who handed them over 'in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq,' the Guardian reported. The Sun also showed a photo Friday of Saddam in his cell and another of him washing his clothes under the headline, 'Tyrant? He's washed up.' 'Saddam is not superman or God. He is now just an aging and humble old man,' the Sun reported its source as saying. 'It's important that the people of Iraq see him like that to destroy the myth.'
While I don't condone this, I can't help laughing about it a little.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Taboo Test

Results Your Moralising Quotient is: 0.33. Your Interference Factor is: 0.20. Your Universalising Factor is: 1.00. What do these results mean? Are you thinking straight about morality? There was no inconsistency in the way that you responded to the questions in this activity. You did not evaluate the actions depicted in these scenarios to be across the board wrong. And anyway you indicated that an action can be wrong even if it is entirely private and no one, not even the person doing the act, is harmed by it. However, there is a tension in your responses in that you indicated that you do see harm in at least some of the activities depicted here. Given that the actions described in these scenarios are private and it was specified as clearly as possible that they didn't involve harm, it isn't clear where you think the harm might lie.
Intersting test (via Tsykoduk)


As if in answer to Victoria A. Brownworth's claim that the internet has destroyed the art of essay writing, Bill Whittle has a new essay up. Certainly worth reading! (part II is here)

Judges and Filibusters

The controversy over Judicial Confirmations is heating up. My first impression, is that either way this whole deal ends up being resolved, it truly isn't that important. The basic point of disagreement, is whether Judges should require 51 or 60 votes for confirmation. When it comes down to it, the difference in caliber and ideology between a Judge who could get 51, but not 60 probably isn't that great. Unlike the house, where Gerrymandering has made elections all but irrelevant, the Senate has a fairly large number of moderates. I don't think that the Republicans will be able to frequently get 51 when they couldn't get 60, and I don't think the Democrats will be able to frequently get maintain a filibuster when they don't have a majority. Of course, once or twice (the number of expected Supreme Court appointments) is more likely. Still, no Judge who is way far out of the mainstream will get appointed in any event. Nonetheless, I am a big fan of rules on how we decide things, and debating the underlying issue of how we should decide this seems worthy. Obviously, the Filibuster is not a Constitutional minority right and it is certainly arguable that even if it were, it applies to legislation, not confirmations. Equally obvious is that the Senate operates largely on rules and traditions that are extra-constitutional and changing these for simple political advantage has perils of it's own. By and large, the rules of the Senate work, and work well, so caution in changing them has a certain amount of merit. That being said, my solution to this problem is probably somewhat radical. I would prefer to maintain the Filibuster, but require it to actually mean something. Currently, when a Filibuster is going on, no one particularly notices. There is no actual debate or even reading of the Phone Book, and the Senate goes about it's business. This of course means that a Filibuster has no political cost other than obstructing the single point of contention it is aimed at, which of course is almost always a political benefit, not a political cost, for the party doing the obstructing. I would prefer that once debate begins on a particular item, it become the sole business of the Senate until the item passes or is withdrawn. A 60 vote majority would be required for cloture, and a 51 vote majority would be required to with draw the legislation, nomination, whatever. While we remained between those two numbers, no other Senate business could get done. This would create political cost for both sides in the debate, which is good, and would probably improve cooperation between the parties, which I also think is good. Ironically perhaps, this solution would jump right past the 'nuclear option' and put us directly into Senator Reid's obstructionist plan. I am admittedly a big fan of congressional gridlock, and this would definately create more of that. Any time when there were serious enough issues that gridlock became a major problem though, I think there would be enough political pressure for a resolution to be found, and found quickly.

A chance to avoid the precipice?

Times Online:

Uzbek government troops moved in overnight to retake an eastern border town from a rebel group who had vowed to fight for an Islamic state in the former Soviet republic, residents said today. ... Jeremy Page, a Times correspondent, reported that that troops and police moved into the town of Korasuv in the early hours and appeared to have taken it with minimal force after community elders promised that corrupt local officials would be replaced and the border with Kyrgystan reopened after a two-year closure. "They appear to have done a deal to avoid bloodshed," Page said from the Kyrgyz side of a border crossing near Korasuv that reopened this morning. "Speaking to Uzbeks coming across the border, it became clear that the police and military moved in overnight and retook the city without any fighting." ... US officials, aware that Mr Karimov's Government is a key regional ally in the War on Terror that has allowed the US to set up a major military base, also started to step up their criticism of the Andijan killings. "Reports being compiled paint a very disturbing picture of the events and the government of Uzbekistan’s reaction to them," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "It’s becoming apparent that very large numbers of civilians were killed by the indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek forces." Uzbek officials took foreign diplomats and journalists on a lightning-quick tour of Andijan yesterday, showing them a prison and the local administration building and arranging meetings with local officials. The delegation was kept blocks away from the people of Andijan, leaving little chance for an objective assessment of last week's violence. Some diplomats complained the trip was too short and limited to draw conclusions about the violence.
Reading between the lines here, there are some hopeful signs. Retaking the town through compromise rather than violence shows that Karimov is still sensitive to western criticism, and the incomplete diplomatic tour shows that as well. Increased (although mild) criticism from the U.S. is welcome here as well. I will add, that it is quite possible, and even likely, that we have been far more forceful in are criticism in public than we have been in private. Karimov is certainly a thug, but he may have enough self interest to start introducing some reforms and begin to move Uzbekistan toward democracy. I am certainly not betting on that yet, and will be keeping a close eye on developments. The peaceful retaking of Korasuv is certainly a welcome event though. In addition to showing that Karimov has some willingness to bend, it also shows that the Islamist threat in Uzbekistan is over-hyped, which leaves both a chance for real democratic reforms and undercuts Karimov's use of this as an excuse for future violence. There is still a very very long way to go before we can feel happy about Uzbekistan, but even a slim hope is better than none at all.


Today is the one year anniversary of this blog. It has been a great year. I appreciate all of my readers and commenters and all the bloggers that link to me and put up such great posts. It has been a very rewarding experience for me, and I look forward to another year. Also this week, I evolved to Flappy Bird status in the Truth Laid Bear ecosystem. Yay me! So now you must all say nice things about me and give me lots more links! Thanks again to all of you. You make it more than worth it.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Uzbekistan and the perils of Democracy

Salt Lake Tribune - Opinion:

Karimov may get away with it, because there is an aspect of these now-commonplace nonviolent revolutions that is not often recognized: They do not work if the regime they are trying to overthrow is not to some extent self-deterred by its desire not to be seen as mere thugs and murderers. In particular they do not work when the regime is confident that it will not face international isolation even if it slaughters the nonviolent protesters. The Burmese generals got away with slaughtering thousands of nonviolent student protesters in Rangoon in 1988, and they are still in power. The Chinese Communist regime did the same on Tienanmen Square in 1989, and it is still there, too. Karimov is confident that he can get away with murder, and he may well be right.
If Karimov 'gets away with this' it will promote more Karimovs. It will further polarize the Muslim world, at a time when the trend has been the other direction. Last Friday, before news of the massacre broke, I wrote:
This could end up being a test of whether the President is serious about promoting democracy or whether he will abandon the reformers in Uzbekistan for pragmatic reasons.
As more time transpires, and as events continue to unfold, I am becoming convinced that this may well be a test of the entire 'democratic strategy.' It tests our commitment to it, and it tests it's very correctness, if we are not willing to embrace the people of Uzbekistan because we do not trust them to form an acceptable government. Lee Harris echoes these concerns in this TCS Article. These concerns have some validity. A popularly elected Islamist government, especially if it has no guarantees for future elections, will be an enemy, not a democratic ally. Perhaps the core of the problem, is that we have not sufficiently explained what we mean when we say democracy. We have explained frequently what it is not. It is not an event, it is a process. It is not necessarily a copy of the American system of government. Defining what it is, at at least a minimal level is more difficult, and something I will take a stab at here. A democracy is continual control of governmental power by the people. To ensure that this control is continual, any democracy must ensure basic human rights. Fundamental rights necessary for a functioning democracy include the Rule of Law and Due Process, Freedom of Speech and Assembly. Absent from this minimum list are rights that I feel are important and a very good idea, but not completely necessary. I am a strong supporter of the second amendment, for several reasons, not the least being it is the right one turns to when the other rights disappear. I believe equally strongly in the seperation of Church and State and the disestablishment of Religion. I think though that there is room for culteral interpretations of these principles though, and as long as the minimal listing above is maintained practical effects of these, and other rights being missing will be slight. I would be very interested in any comments on this post as to fundamental characteristics I have missed.

If THE EMPIRE was America...

Patrick Ruffini has a Photoshop Contest up This is his original entry, which is great

Pepsi shows some smarts

Power Line posted yesterday on a graduation speech Indra Nooyi, the president/CFO of PepsiCo, gave to the Columbia Business School. The controversy didn't strike me as hugely important when Powerline posted it, and seemed overblown to begin with. Pepsi has now posted Ms. Nooyi's speech in full. Reading it, I don't find anything objectionable. That isn't really the point of this post though. No matter how good or bad the speech makes Ms. Nooyi (and hence Pepsi) look, posting it is the smart thing to do. Immediately it gets you out of the business of 'covering up' and lets you move on to dealing with the issue, making clarifications and apologies if needed, and letting the whole thing blow over. If Eason Jordan had got his speech at Davos online quickly, the whole thing would have probably blown over. Pepsi has shown they understand the new media environment.

Social Security and dealing with change

Victor at The Dead Parrot Society has another interesting post up about Social Security. While the details of his post are interesting, the conclusion is the most intriguing part to me:

Maybe this means that I don't really care about a 'permanent' fix for Social Security; our solution today should also give future generations the flexibility to end or adapt the program as they may see fit. By saddling us with a multi-trillion inter-generational debt, this is a freedom that our forefathers did not see fit to grant to us. The world will change, and it is our duty to give our children the freedom to change with it.
Of course, this has been seen as a feature, not a bug, to many, including FDR. I agree with Victor though that change is a constant and our programs should be adaptable to deal with that change. We don't know what the future holds. We can however intimate that any program whose liabilities only extend to money that it has collected will be adaptable, whereas the one that we have now, which is predicated on paying existing liabilities by future collections will always be difficult to adapt to changing needs.