Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hands in the Till Will Kill

Here's a great example on how the mismanagement of large sums of money leads to loss of life.

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Organ Donation

This is a subject overwhelmingly fraught with emotion. There is a very thoughtful and intense discussion of it going on over at the Belmont Club. Scan for comments by Cedarford, who is a grimly logical person, very tough to counter, and a person who works on organ acquisition named TheNewGuy. It is a problem in the US, but was famously a greater problem in Italy when the son of some American tourists died there in 1994. Italians were astounded when the parents donated the boy's organs. For myself, I am listed as an organ donor on my driver's license and I have told my wife that I don't wish to be resuscitated if I am in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovering a decent quality of life.

The issue boils down to the fact that there are not enough available organs to meet the needs. If that could be changed, the emotional issues would disappear. I know this, because years ago the US went through exactly the same kind of crisis with kidney dialysis. I remember that the shortage of dialysis machines was used in Socratic classroom discussions modeled on the Fred Friendly seminar style, pushing the necessary decisions ever closer to the emotional stress points, turning the issue into Sophie's Choice. Who gets to choose, who goes first, who dies?

My recommendation would be that people should get points to move up places in the line for every year they have been on the organ donor list. Their children would also benefit from this choice. I think that would be enough incentive to eliminate the problem.

7/30/2005 11:19 PM

The issue relates to the Schiavo case, which I have discussed here and here.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Emotional Coverage of AIDS Trials

New York Press has a distressing article about abusive testing regimens in children with AIDS over that last decade or so. The accusations include violations of medical ethics, physician indifference, surreptitious trials on disadvantaged children, race-based selection, forced compliance and lack of scientific merit. An apparently more balanced piece in the NY Times covers the accusations, but allows a response from physicians. It implies that the accusers include race-baiters and glory hounds, that the whole issue is something along the Tawana Brawley pattern. A number of the accusers are also proponents of the theory that HIV does not cause AIDS, a theory that I abhor, which has found lamentable support among some African leaders.

AIDS drugs are powerful and toxic with dangerous side effects that would definitely be even more disturbing in children. I imagine it could seem counterproductive to the nurses. That’s why we have Science. Hard decisions must be made, and ignorance is a poor guide.

I wish I knew the truth about these assertions. I don’t think it works in this case to merely assume that the reality lies somewhere in the middle. I certainly don’t believe that a repeat of the Tuskegee experiments is likely in this day and age, but I don’t expect this to disappear from the news any time soon.

7/28/2005 3:58 PM

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Anti-Wal-Mart

New York Times has an interesting article asserting that Costco has proved (reg. reqd.) that you don't need to abuse your employees to make a profit. This is a lesson that needs to be relearned from time to time. Henry Ford, for all his faults, proved the same thing in 1914. Unlike Ford and Wal-Mart as well, Costco has apparently been tolerant of unions.

This is an incredibly positive piece, including the claim that Costco is actually more profitable than Sam's club. It doesn't, however, address concerns about the social and environmental problems related to the supersizing of retail establishments.

7/27/2005 7:28 AM

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mallory Knocks Down W**-M**t

Mallory has a good post about Wal-Mart’s impact on small businesses, which supplements the well-known story of their impact on retail workers. IMO, we should also think about their likely direct and indirect impact on small town tax bases, city planning, fuel usage, run-off pollution, light pollution, public transportation, destructive changes in traffic patterns, indirect impact on water supplies and sewage processing, abusive labor practices abroad, increased corruption in politics at all levels, our inflexible commitment to highway culture, increased travel time and expenditures, opportunity costs for customers, future horizontal integration of retail markets, vertical integration of suppliers, shippers, facilities maintenance, construction companies, ... I'm getting tired. Mallory also points to a site that does this job full time.

I believe that our government must start taking seriously its duty to control the development of monopolistic organizations and practices. I also think that Wal-Mart wouldn't be such a severe problem if our government were to take measures to support the price of fuel, most favorably with a direct tax on it. Transportation should be expensive enough to favor local businesses.

7/26/2005 4:42 PM

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Michael Yon in the Devil's Foyer

Michael Yon has some great stuff about a major IP coup. When asked about it, all they would say was "Hello". He didn't show their pictures for obvious reasons. Read the whole thing. The pictures he does show are great. Here's an excerpt:

Separately, in an undercover operation, the Iraqi police detained four men whose kidnapping cell had abducted the 28-year-old wife of a Mosul journalist. This group was known to behead their victims, holding the world vicariously hostage with their crude cinemtography. This raid was interesting; information had recently come in that the terrorists were plotting to kill a journalist here in Mosul, and some officers believed the target was me. There is an interesting aside about a spy that Deuce Four detained who was actively trying to persuade me to visit what he described as a "safe" place in Iraq. While he is now in Abu Ghirab, I am still with Deuce Four, both of us "safe" for the moment.

[For the record: If I am ever captured and seen on television telling the world that America is evil, I am lying.]
[Ed: comment by Michael Yon.]

The apparent target of these four assassins was the Iraqi journalist whose wife was kidnapped and later rescued by the Iraqi police. And now those same kidnappers were nabbed by a police force that has little difficulty extracting information from people. I heard one American captain at the police station say that the kidnappers were “singing like birds.” That night, the Iraqi police shared information about a gigantic weapons cache, and hours later they joined elements of Deuce Four in a raid on that target.

7/23/2005 12:42 AM

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Merging Sects in Lebanon

Condi Rice threw Syria an olive branch by paying respects to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. She did so, however, only after visiting the tomb of the popular Rafik Hariri, murdered by the Syrians for his implicit support of Lebanese independence, and meeting with Hariri's son Saad, a political debutante who has acquitted himself rather well. The message Condi Rice is sending is that Lebanon is free.

BBC's article on Lebanon from a month ago hints at some of the political problems associated with consolidating different cultural/ethnic/religious groups into a united country. The "confessional distribution" system ensures that there is an equal balance of Christian and Muslim representations, with assembly seats allocated to subgroups based on population. Christian representatives in Muslim dominated districts must find some way to appeal to their Muslim constituents and vice versa. There are various ingenious compromises built into the electoral system to make it work in the real world, and the Lebanese have a lot of practice at making it work. Syria was just a temporary setback.

The trouble with the system, as I see it, is that it stovepipes the animosity units. What I mean by that is that, effective though it may be, the confessional method forces compromises to take place at the highest levels across the greatest cultural divides. They should be forcing this process downward toward the people. The Syrians certainly forced them to do that during the Cedar Revolution demonstrations, but there are signs that bickering has already broken out.

Big city police in the US have often addressed the problem by pairing cops across the divide. The US Army does an excellent job of educating for cultural awareness and integrating groups at the grunt level. People who depend on each other will come to understand each other. The Vietnam War may have been the greatest cultural blender in US history. People who had never touched a member of another race were forced to share foxholes with one another.

I think that the Lebanese should establish a voting unit of 128 people, combined in exactly the same proportions as their multi-ethnic confessional distribution. This committee would then chose one or two or seven people from among their numbers to cast the real votes. The criterion for election should be severe, say two-thirds, forcing the group to compromise and iron out differences at the retail level. One could expect the delegates from this group to be somewhat more levelheaded and ecumenical than most. Any national candidates who could please these delegates would have to put the interests of Lebanon ahead of sectarian concerns.

I would suggest that a similar measure would be useful in Iraq as well.

7/22/2005 4:25 PM

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Deniability

T. A. Frank in a "related link" posted from this week’s TNR online (subscription) compares his job to those in the garment industry and to the poor bastards working as guards in Abu Ghraib.

… The heads of our office told us to report every hour we worked, but, had we actually done so, they would have fired us. This required no official directive; everybody just knew. …

… With Abu Ghraib, corporals and privates will go to prison while Cabinet members will keep their posts. The investigations continue, but it is becoming clear that no one will acknowledge the essential story: Those at the top insisted on certain results but wouldn't spell out how to get them… [My emphasis]

A somewhat related story: My sainted brother-in-law was once a naval officer working onboard a US Navy ship providing legal defense for sailors. After a while he was informed that he was also responsible for the brig. This was not a duty that he had solicited, nor expected, and he thought long and hard about why he had been assigned such a position. It seemed like a fairly important and sensitive task, to be in charge of prisoners on a large vessel. Why give it to a junior officer with a law degree. He was, after all, not particularly ambitious to move up in the Navy and not real likely to stay one day past his required minimum. He asked the senior non-com at the brig what he could expect. The response was "nothing to worry about", "we’ll take care of everything", etc. SBIL smiled with apparent relief, thanked the fellow profusely, and set his alarm for 3AM.

When he appeared at the brig that morning, he caused quite a bit of consternation. "Are you lost sir? Can I help you sir? Is there a problem sir?" The non-com was there within 5 minutes asking as indirectly as possible what the officer was doing there. "Oh nothing, just observing, keep up the good work." He did this at random times several times a month for the remainder of his assignment.

Now, SBIL is not particularly ornery or a control freak. He’s actually fairly relaxed (maybe a little ornery). But he felt vulnerable, and he decided that he would prefer, at some unspecified time in the future, to be able to specify the exact extent to which he exercised his oversight, regarding the treatment of prisoners.

7/20/2005 12:16 AM

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Civilian Victims of Violence in Iraq

The latest BBC number is 25,000. What happened to the 100,000 number? I’m sure George Galloway will continue to use it anyway. Americans apparently are responsible for 37% or 9,250. Almost as many were due to a simple increase in criminality, conceivably connected to Saddam’s decision to empty the prisons. Over 80% of these civilian victims were males aged 18 and up.

Now, is it just me, or is there a pretty big inconsistency in that statistic? Why would the number of male civilian victims exceed the female civilian victims of the same age? In particular, why should the male adult civilian victims outnumber the female adult civilian victims by a factor of nine to one? More likely to be out on the streets. Check. More likely to be under suspicion. Check. More likely to take offense to random searches. Check. But nine to one? Let’s be reasonable. Some of these guys were combatants of one sort or another.

Another interesting aspect of the BBC report is that the base number of monthly fatalities caused by US forces runs generally less than 100, with exceptions for specific events. The base number caused by "anti-US forces" varies from 500 to almost 1000. The initial US impact was large but tapered off quickly, jumping back up only for the Falluja and the anti-Sadr operations in the South.

Let me just say that it looks like the BBC has tried to do an unbiased and thorough presentation of this study, by "the Iraq Body Count Group and Oxford-based academics". I suspect that they are basing these numbers on Iraqi news reports, which would cause them to miss many fatalities. However I think there are bigger problems in distinguishing civilians from combatants.

7/19/2005 11:50 PM

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Zardads Dog

In uncontrolled situations, extremes win. The most rotten guy succeeds. That is the message of Mao as described by Jung Chang. Without controls, society will trend toward the worst imaginable behavior. Take as example, Zardad’s dog. Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, an Afghan warlord, was convicted in the Old Bailey for what amount to war crimes. It’s very complex, but the guy controlled a psychopath named Abdullah Shah, an Afghan man described as a berserk version of Hagrid. He used Shah to intimidate travelers through his "domain" and collect tolls.

The real question is not how bad it can get, but rather, why does civilization exist? Why is it that we have succeeded against tyrants and thugs where others can’t? Is it just superior firepower? The US government wins against Al Capone because we can outshoot him? What about Nixon, he had the guns? Did he step down because he lacked ambition?

7/19/2005 1:07 PM

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Mao the Pitiless

The Age has a short interview with Jung Chang, the author of Mao: The Unknown Story. The following except hit me like a rock. I have to find out whether it’s true:

When Stalin took as hostages both Mao's son and the son of Mao's rival, Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Kai-shek held back on his chance to wipe out the communists in China so he could get his son back. Mao told Stalin: "Do what you like."

I notice that the Amazon ratings seem to have a high standard deviation, indicating possible controversy.

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Al Capone Needs Elliot Ness

Recently Wretchard discussed the outbreak of extreme Puritanism in the South of Iraq. We have seen it earlier. In the past year or so, Christian sellers of alcohol in southern Iraq have been harassed and driven out of business. Sometimes even killed for the evil that they have been tempting good Muslims with. Now, it turns out that the people who were doing the clean-up are now cleaning up. FayRouz has the scoop.

Could it be that these puritanical enforcers of the Faith were corrupted by exposure to the Crusader vendors of alcohol? More likely, I think, that Al Sadr and his buddies saw a business opportunity. If Saddam planned to be Stalin, maybe Al Sadr plans to be Al Capone. How cynical to start by helping Elliot Ness in order to eliminate the competition.

Remember, every prohibition has an equal and opposite impact. A price support system for alcohol is making money for the Sadrists.

Note: Wretchard's post is special. It has 618 comments already. Many interesting ideas.

7/18/2005 1:07 PM

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Another Hot Summer in France

The French appear to be suffering from another hot summer. They are seeing highs in the high 90's, possibly over 100F. Heat from the Sahara, 10 to 20 degrees F above normal, has moved into France, most concentrated in the Rhone Valley. The government, at least, seems to be taking this one a little more seriously (Fr.) than in the summer of 2003. The Ministry of Health has allocated 26 million Euros to retirement homes for this heat wave. Ninety percent of French retirement homes now have an air-conditioned section as opposed to 58% in 2003.

In addition to hyperthermia among the very young and elderly, the thing that is worrying them most is the related increase in ozone and volatile organics, which they anticipate will kill up to 30,000 people if nothing is done. These deaths will result from increased severity of such chronic health problems as asthma. They will implement emergency measures in some places, such as to impose reduced speed limits and to redirect traffic around affected areas.

The French have two terms for what we call a "heat wave". The more general term is "vague de chaleur", or "wave of warmth". A more severe version is called a "canicule", for which we have no word. I'm not sure when the word first appeared.

The French tend to rely on their government to address this kind of problem more so than we do. I am worried that they may not have done enough. They seem to be blaming it on the Americans, instead.

7/16/2005 10:22 PM

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Friday, July 15, 2005

Harry Potter the Zeitgeist

Joel Garreau in the Concord Monitor thinks that Harry Potter serves the same purpose for this generation that Bob Dylan served in the 60's, some sort of moral forecaster for the challenging changes of society. The Pope, perhaps, thinks that Harry Potter is the Pied Piper, leading children to a meaningless, Christless cavern in the mountains of fantasy. The BBC's Robert Winder hates the series because it seem to represent England as a cardboard cutout of the true place. He can't understand why adults would waste their time on it.

I think they're all taking it far too seriously. Harry is a joyful depiction of innocent confrontation with danger and moral evil. It is also a treasure hunt of entertaining clues and a commonsense study of adolescent confusions.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Josey Wales Analogy

Michael Totten is part of a new centrist group blog called Donklephant. His own favorite piece so far is a by Callimachus. (The name, I believe, refers to the Polemarch of Athens, the general who commanded the right wing of the Greek army against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.) Callimachus compares the decision making process of the outlaw, Josey Wales, to the healthy Madisonian diversity of our culture. Josey Wales is way cool.

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Judith Miller

I have always liked Judith Miller's reporting and found her to be convincing. Not everyone agrees, and I may have underestimated her credulity. Maybe I just liked her because I share her view that the world is a dangerous place. But now I also admire her character.

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Mass Mentation

When people evaluate problems at different scales, the application of common sense may fail to help. Non-scientists, and even most scientists, have real problems with visualizing, understanding, even processing things like quantum mechanics and relativity. Even Brownian motion is mind-boggling to us. I’ll bet a lot of people don’t believe in it. What would it be like to live in a world where the normal movement of molecules could push you around? Specialists think differently. New senses have to be learned. Engineers can almost feel the stresses in structures. Orbital physicists like to think about efficient orbits as systems of intersecting tunnels in space and time, kind of like the Metro gone mad. Chemists can spend a lifetime trying to hone their proprioceptive mental map of molecular interactions. The speed and complexity of events in this chemical world are difficult to imagine.

The difficulties of dealing within these privileged worlds are easy to underestimate. Every weekend mariner can express confident opinions on the handling problems of the Titanic or the Exxon Valdez. Every Little League coach rails against the mistakes of the big leaguers. And everybody who reads the paper can tell the President what to do.

Now, if the Internet has taught us anything, it is that these people are right. Everyone can add to the conversation. Everyone understands a different combination of things in a way that no one else can quite get the handle of. They can contribute. What’s more, people can contribute from the full range of their talents – not just the ones they advertise in the phonebook.

People may underestimate the challenges of whatever given task, but we underestimate the people. A story. My daughter was talking to my sister’s housepainter some months ago. The man speaks slowly and my sister thought he was impaired to some degree. But he answered every question my daughter asked about the house and then started telling her surprising things about the plants and trees. My sister, who was listening the whole time, was stunned. Her new insight into his capacity led to her giving the man a contract for landscaping. In my estimation, he turned her property into a work of art. So why does he paint houses? All the usual reasons I imagine, and others besides. People are easy to pigeonhole, but too complex to understand.

The Internet has started to link people through the content of their minds, unfiltered by previous prejudices. When the power of this immense net-mind is harnessed by an army of meme-aggregators, amazing things can happen. Nevertheless, it is apparent to non-fanatics that the Internet usually acts more like a sea of competing megaphones than the coordinated mentation of an intelligent being. The Internet seems to have an infinite capacity for blockhead political discourse and astoundingly intricate conspiracy theories.

It may seem like I’m taking both sides of the issue, but what I’m really trying to point out is that the skills of the individual, surprising though they may be, are inappropriate to the scale of society. Democracies are really not run by voters, thank God. They are run by systems – systems that make good use of the component individuals. These systems grew up out of history and tradition and habits. People who were good at thinking about systems contributed to the legal structure. Segregation of responsibilities by level of locality as well as functional and regional specialization emerged as needed over the years.

Individuals are plugged into this system in ways that have worked reasonably well given the restrictions of the past. The multiplicity of these systems has allowed a form of natural selection to work its way, producing institutions that conform to the collective social wisdom of the people and the leaders. Note, as an example, that Pennsylvania is now going to allow jurors to take notes. This is something that has been gaining acceptance and is now practiced in every other state and commonwealth. If there were no other models to copy from, this change might never have happened, at least in Pennsylvania. Institutions are conservative (especially in Pennsylvania), but experimentation takes place all the time. These institutions, as a consequence, represent centuries of stored intelligence.

Institutions are, however, currently in flux. Stored intelligence or not, they are threatened as much by new capacities and possibilities, as any change in the ancient and storied qualities of human beings. I believe that people are actually getting smarter over the years, at least more intelligent, but problems we face are growing faster, both in complexity and severity. Consequently, we need our institutions to be better. We need new institutions. We need our social networks to evolve.

We can no longer afford the self-destructive idiocy of the War on Drugs. We can’t keep using oil like it grows on trees. We can’t afford for segments of the country to exile themselves from modern science. All these things go wrong because of the disconnect between best knowledge and scope of government. Let there be no mistake, the U.S. has imposed a Tyranny of the Masses, restricted as best we can to protect individuals. The Executive has a modicum of independence, but the reins are a lot shorter than they seem. There is only a very limited capacity to rule and to make decisions, because it is not possible to hold the people’s trust for very long. This may be a good thing. The system also has a hard time picking truly qualified people.

The Internet as it stands, is only marginally useful in the political arena. However, it presents some hope that things can be improved. The Internet, as a model, has several interesting attributes that offer possibilities for improved governmental mechanisms. The first is variety. No one can be squelched on the Internet (at least not completely). All ideas can be discussed seriously and persuasion applied. Second, the Internet is inexpensive. Money does not buy a lot of status, at least not yet. Third, the Internet provides a mechanism for conferring trust and delegating intellectual authority. I know that Richard Fernandez, young as he may be, knows a lot more about military matters and Iraq than I do. I trust his judgment on many things and I post comments on his blog. So do a lot of other people. Please be aware that Richard Fernandez does not post comments on my blog. There are good reasons for that.

In summary, I believe that we should be looking to the Internet, not only as a tool, but as a source of inspiration for how to build new social networks and compress political distance.

7/14/2005 12:36 AM

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Missing French Student

A French national, Ihab Slimane(Fr.) one of a dozen or so still unaccounted for in London, is apparently suspected of being a terrorist bomber(Fr.) The only reason I know this is that the rector of his family mosque in Lyon has come to his defense. The rector (imam?) says that whenever a Muslim dies in an attack, people are immediately suspicious. Besides, he says, he never saw the boy in mosque anyway. The 24-year old Information Technology student was in London to improve his English. His father apparently went directly to Scotland Yard to ask about his son, and is now touring the London hospitals. The article notes that Scotland Yard had no questions for the father, but that London tabloids are speculating about Ihab’s involvement. I haven’t seen those speculations.

It is interesting to me that an official of the mosque would be so sensitive about the possibility that a well-off, highly educated 24-year old male Muslim IT student raised in France might be inclined to bomb the British. I think it’s a good sign that mainstream Muslims are sensitive to this, and I personally agree that it’s unlikely in this case. The boy’s family is originally from Tunisia, a place known generally for tolerance. In his picture, he looks like a nice kid. If Ihab is dead, it is a tragedy, and I feel for his family. If Ihab is in some way responsible for the attack, it is an even greater tragedy for his family.

7/12/2005 10:12 AM

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Thanks to the Noble American People

Alaa, the Mesopotamian, has translated a post about President Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari’s message of thanks to the President and People of America. The post was written in Arabic by an apparently eloquent and thoughtful man, probably a Shiaa, identified as Mr. Mussawi.

The translation with commentary involved explication of Arabic puns that Alaa compared, not unfavorably, to those of William Shakespeare. Mr. Mussawi made it apparent that this message of thanks was neither an easy thing for Al-Jaafari to do, nor some offhand remark made for the sake of politeness. It was an important event. It was also by no means a certainty that such thanks would ever be given.

Of particular interest to me was the classification system used by Mr. Mussawi for characterizing different types of Shiaa. He identified 1) the pious Shiaa who try to do the right thing, 2) the political Shiaa who pretend to do the right thing (Al Sadr), perhaps wrapping themselves in the flag of Islam, 3) and the mule-headed Shiaa who pillory others based on narrow-minded interpretations of selected parts of the Koran, a book which they may never have read for themselves. Sound familiar?

Alaa also coined a new word, toraboration, after Tora Bora, which seems to mean: hiding from one’s enemy, helplessly waiting for death, but remaining too spiteful to accept mercy. (I don’t know. Maybe you can do better.)

7/8/2005 11:01 PM

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Seven Seven

If you are Christian, Father Martin Sylvester has some words of comfort on seven-seven. I'll take my words from Christopher Hitchens, who seems a little distracted, but signs off by saying that it is we who must set the pace in this conflict. Here's a better effort just a few hours later.

A small coincidence. Seventy-seven is the atomic number of iridium. You may recall that the object that fell to earth and destroyed the dinosaurs left a distinctive trace of iridium at the K-T boundary marker. Perhaps we should take this as an omen that these holdovers from a different age will soon be extinct.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bush Says Humans Obviously Cause Warming

Bush Says Humans Obviously Cause Warming

This sounds like a good thing. The Scotsman has this comment:

Meanwhile, Mr Bush has come a long way towards agreeing with campaigners on some of the basic issues. He said in an ITV interview on Monday that the planet is warming and "obviously" man is partly responsible.

Along with his pro-nuclear stand, this may indicate a long awaited effort to interpose honesty into politics.

7/6/2005 2:53 PM

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Flying the Flag

To my knowledge, I was the only one on my street flying the flag yesterday, July 4. I had it out on July 2, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and July 3 as well for good measure. My neighborhood is filled with smart people, mostly liberals. They see themselves as citizens of the world. I like these people, and I share much of their thinking, but I think they are missing something important.

I am a smart person myself, and I am a Liberal. And as such, I recognize that this country is the best country in the world, and probably the best country that ever existed. I believe the Sun rose in the West in '76 and most particularly in '87, shining most brightly on Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, and Washington. It was a time of great fortune for humanity. A lucky break. The world would be a hopeless place today if these men had not lived. Such a sentimental view, I know, is hard to forgive. Even my wife thinks my patriotism is naive and culture-centric.

In my defense, just let me say that I don't think that this is yet the best country that it could be, or that it is well run. I share Churchill's opinion of Democracy, and I am trying to find that alternative that works better.

7/5/2005 11:57 PM

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Firefly

Michael Totten has a post about the science fiction series Firefly on Fox. I haven't even heard of it, but now I have to see it! He says there's a movie coming out.

I'll be offline for a couple of days. Today is the anniversary of our independence. Celebrate!


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Friday, July 01, 2005

A Repository of Trust

Shadow Congress

Having used the term Shadow Congress to mean a group of people who watch the government, I decided to google it a little. I discovered that there are some people advocating a direct democracy approach to government who use the term to describe what I would call the Body of Millions. Unelected citizens would monitor C-SPAN and vote directly on Congressional issues. C-SPAN would collect the votes and present Congress with our collective opinion on such items as fire suppression funding for ICBM sites and SEC recommendations for control of the derivatives market.

This is actually the exact opposite of what I had in mind. The presumed benefit of such an organization is already being provided, more accurately and expeditiously, by opinion polls. This Body of Millions would be a self-selected sample of people who have the time and inclination to obsess over obscure issues that they don't fully understand. Hardly representative of the People. It would, in time, become a sports-like partisan free-for-all as people lined up behind political celebs like Howard Dean or Karl Rove to push for the respective party lines. It would be a tremendous boost for the cable companies though, as people would be buying multiple accounts in order to vote early and often.

The purpose of any government, in my opinion, is to efficiently collect competent and insightful leaders and statesmen into an effective ruling group, a group that will honestly exercise exactly the necessary power to address the issues facing our country, with the least amount of disruption and partisan friction. The structure of the US government is an instance of Rule-of-Law that is carefully calibrated to prevent excessive and inappropriate use of this power. This is a good thing! But such a system is dangerously inflexible and slow to respond in crisis. The current configuration is excessively dependent on public opinion and vulnerable to disinformation. The Shadow Congress mechanism I am proposing is a top-down method of decreasing political distance, improving political honesty and increasing confidence in the government. Itwould provide the government with greater ability to sustain effective strategic policies, while at the same time being more accountable to the People.

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The term Shadow Government as used in the US refers to 1) a semi-secret group of experienced executives sequestered into remote sites hardened against an attack that might destroy Washington, DC, 2) the loose-knit soft-money partisan attack confederation of the Democratic Party, headed by the nefarious Dr. So(ros) or 3) a UFO conspiracy theory.

In the UK, the term Shadow Government refers to the front-bench members of the Opposition, who are ready to take charge should the government change hands; also referred to as a Shadow Cabinet.

7/1/2005 12:52 PM

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