Friday, April 28, 2006

Publius Derides A Kleptocrat

Publius Pundit has two posts beating up on Hugo Chavez. I consider this fine sport. People should know by now that Marxism leads to terrible things on a fairly predictable basis. The first article makes a prediction that Chavez' attempt to conquer Peru will backfire. The second describes the impending economic disaster in Venezuela's oil industry. For one thing, Publius claims that oil production in Venezuela is down sixty percent! Actually below quota. Check it out. I'm in love with his masthead by the way.

4/28/2006 6:59 PM

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Immigration by Another Means

Thirty years ago the boat people started arriving in Australia. This was an immense exodus of South Vietnamese, those who were "unsuited" to the communist regime. Desperate people, grasping at shreds of hope, left Vietnam with nothing. They spent their last wealth on bribes to get out. The suffering they sailed into is legendary.

The communists did not realize it at the time, but they were losing precious resources by the boatful. These refugees dispersed all over the world, but many came to America -- Vietnam's loss, our gain. At one time Saigon was the "Pearl of the Orient", a city with life and great potential. Saigon and Vietnam languished pathetically after the war, economically stagnant until the 90's. After the government renounced communism, life began to get better for the people. Why couldn't they have done that to begin with? The economy recovers, but Freedom remains elusive.

I have mixed feelings about the war, but I think the bad ending was unnecessary. Is Vietnam better off today than it would have been if we had done a better job? We lost a lot in the war, and so did they. The way things went after the war was also bad. In particular, a lot of the boat people suffered, and a lot died. It may have been worse for the ones who stayed behind.

4/26/2006 3:10 PM

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Distance and the Borderlands

Distance and the Borderlands

George Friedman of Stratfor has analyzed the Mexican immigration issue at Junk Politics as well as I've seen it done so far.

...The argument against the Mexican migration would seem on its face to be simply a repeat of old, failed arguments against past migrations.

But Mexican migration should not be viewed in the same way as other migrations. When a Ukrainian Jew or a Sicilian or an Indian came to the United States, their arrival represented a sharp geographical event; ... Sicilians might remember Sicily, they might harbor a cultural commitment to its values and they might even have a sense of residual loyalty to Sicily or to Italy -- but Italy was thousands of miles away. The Italian government could neither control nor exploit the migrant's presence in the United States. Simply put, these immigrants did not represent a geopolitical threat; ...

This, I'm sure, is a new way of looking at the problem for many people. There's a lot more there as well.

Serious enforcement of the border would be equivalent to making current immigration more like the previous waves of immigration. Let's keep our distance. Put up the fence.

4/21/2006 10:31 PM

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Pipesters Prevail

Daniel Pipes is trumpeting the victory over CAIR by his protege organization, the anti-Islamist group Anti-CAIR. The issue was a harassment lawsuit instigated by CAIR, which they have apparently backed down on in a big way.

4/21/2006 6:57 PM

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The Lowest Form

Baron Bodissey has some analysis on the recent problems in the Solomon Islands. You may have heard about it on the news, but network news can be awfully vague on issues involving ethnic contention. The problem is basically that Chinese immigrants to Honiara, Guadalcanal, have been very successful economically. I imagine that they have also maintained a large degree of isolation from the other inhabitants as immigrants generally do, but Chinese in particular. The majority indigenous population has gradually built up a level of rage that could not be quenched except by mass destruction aimed at the Chinese, a group which is, by the way, a very small minority. One interesting aspect of the story is that the majority felt that rich Chinese were corrupting their democratically elected officials in evil places like hotels and restaurants.

The Baron is a thinker, but he has a strong "clash-of-civilizations" worldview, obsessed with Islam, itself, as a congenital source of tyranny and violence. I expected him to somehow blame the Arabs for the problems in the Solomons. He surprised me by blaming the islanders for scapegoating a helpless minority. He compares the Chinese minority to Jews in Europe, implying that it's psychologically satisfying to blame someone who can't fight back. A lot of his commenters disagree, seeing darker forces under the surface, but I agree with the Baron in this case.

Whenever something goes wrong, when a child dies or a crop fails or prices rise, people want to blame someone. They look around to see who might have benefited by their misfortune. The neighbor's crop is fine. He must have cast a hex on mine. But someone in the group knows the neighbor and stands up for him. If the neighbor is of a different group, especially an isolated group, no one will stand up for that person, at least no one who matters, no one who is present when the "crime" is discussed. If a critical mass of these randomly generated negative feelings occurs, focused on a single individual, that individual will be in trouble. Whatever group that individual belongs to will also suffer by association, association with a "proven" troublemaker.

Now, among awake, healthy humans a process goes on continuously that I would like to characterize as generating "blame nodes". Every perceived injustice, misfortune, disagreement, or military setback generates copious quantities of blame nodes. Think of them as being distributed, perhaps according to the Poisson distribution, relatively evenly across the n-dimensional human landscape. It is the nature of a blame node that it likes to be connected. It wants to join each blame event with a plausible culprit. Human cognition being what it is, the join is not necessarily related to logic or acute analysis.

Blame nodes can be strengthened, weakened or multiplied. They usually fade with time and resistance and can be cancelled completely due to interactions among the relevant individuals. Blame nodes can also be strongly autocatalytic in two senses. A favorite node tends to engender copies of itself, by the original creator of the node and by closely associated people, and the target of a given node may react with defensive counter-nodes, leading to a sort of arms race. It should be obvious that these blame nodes represent a primitive sort of life form, subject to peculiar patterns of natural selection. Nodes joining to powerful people will tend to disappear. Nodes that have unknowing and helpless targets may well increase without bounds. Conspiracy theories turn thusly into cataclysms.

Successful isolated groups have often been the targets of abuse throughout history. Not just Jews. Think about the Tutsis, the Armenians, Vietnamese fishermen in the Gulf states, Chinatowns the world over, the Knights Templar, the rich widows of Salem, the prosperous gay men of Providence. Something about success is galling, especially if honestly earned. We are able to tolerate millions of lowly illegal immigrants, but an influx of physicians and professors from South Asia provokes resentment.

One group that interests me is the Order of Freemasons. Recall that the Masons generated a lot of successful people early in our country’shistory, George Washington being the most famous. Just a few decades later there was a powerful national Anti-Masonic third party. How could that happen? Having known some Masons, my grandfather was a Mason, I find it astounding that people could coalesce around the concept of opposing Masons.

The problem they had is that not everybody can make it into a Masonic Lodge. There is some isolation and always lots of secret doings. No Mason could refute accusations about the events that took place in Masonic meetings because they couldn’t break secrecy. Wealth and power accumulated among Masons because they selected promising young men who knew how to get along with people. They cultivated their connections with one another for economic benefit, as everyone does with their friends, but these friends had a tight hierarchical social organization that fostered good internal communication and encouraged generosity. They were bound to succeed. Nevertheless, they were subject to envy and suspicion simply because they were a select group engaging in secret activities, harmless in fact, but closed to the public view.

Now, what you should be asking yourself at this point is, How can we harness the strengths of such groups without the liabilities? The answer is, invite everybody in. This in fact has been the successful strategy of Christianity and Islam, not to mention the Roman Empire and the United States. Is there indeed a way to engineer such a successful group? How could we copy the strategies of the most successful groups without unduly focusing the blame node matrix? In the US we do it by means of dynamic balance among a multitude of competing groups and by teaching tolerance. The program works pretty well, as compared to other places anyway, but it leaves out an unsuccessful and bitter underclass, and it fails to harvest the full bounty of our potential capabilities. Just as we can look at the Solomons today and shake our heads with dismay at their ignorant, self-defeating actions, I think we could look upon ourselves the same way. Let us avoid their mistakes. Let us imagine being in a better place and figure out how to get there.

4/21/2006 1:32 PM

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Rose Above Submission

Denmark's champion of free speech, Flemming Rose, is in the United States on order of his editors. He was supposed to be interviewing political intellectuals here and staying out of trouble, but he was interviewed himself, at length, by Willa Paskin of the blog-like "The Media Mob" of the New York Observer. He remains gratifyingly unrepentant, a little testy maybe. I like it. The summary of the interview is unfortunately brief.

4/20/2006 5:12 PM

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Oil Shock

When the Secretary of State speaks in such an alarming manner, we should ask ourselves what is behind these words. Should we be expecting $100 oil by midsummer? Fortune says it might be worse. Has there been an agreement between Iran and Venezuela? Which are the states she is talking about?

... We do have to do something about the energy problem. I can tell you that nothing has really taken me aback more as secretary of State than the way that the politics of energy is -- I will use the word warping -- diplomacy around the world. It has given extraordinary power to some states that are using that power in not very good ways for the international system, states that would otherwise have very little power. It is sending some states that are growing very rapidly in an all-out search for energy -- states like China, states like India -- that is really sending them into parts of the world where they've not been seen before, and challenging, I think, for our diplomacy. It is, of course, an energy supply that is still heavily dependent on hydrocarbons, which makes more difficult our desire to have growth, environmental protection and reliable energy supply all in a package.

... on the energy side, we have simply got to do something about the warping now of diplomatic effort by the all-out rush for energy supply.

I am completely behind the India nuclear development initiative. Safe reactors in India, built in numbers and built cheaply with US/UN oversight, will cut down on world-wide pollution, divert some of the oil grab mentality, reduce the chance for resource wars, give India an energy parachute, provide a democratic model and a military balance for China. Rice says that India is producing 1% of their electric power with nuclear, as opposed to 20% for the US and 78% for France. So the marginal benefit should be huge for India.

I am, however, a little unsettled by the Secretary's directness.

We apparently can't build nukes here, so it will be almost as good to build them in India. It might even be better in some ways. The nimbys can take comfort in the distance and still reap the economic benefits. Australia is apparently reading from the same playbook and is presently negotiating with China on a uranium contract. Oz nimbys are equally problematic.

My suggestion to you is to buy that Prius now and also a couple shares of oil stock. I'm hoping Rice was just trying to wake up the sleeping Senators and forgot that people might be listening.

4/13/2006 11:51 AM

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Annex You Back

GlennReynolds has proposed, that rather than submit to the reconquistas, we should annex Mexico. His rationale is that if we were to cede the southwest to Mexico, we would be innundated by immigrants at the new border. Mexico is dysfunctional. There's no reason they shouldn't be as wealthy as us except for a variety of kleptocratic aspects of the ruling clique. The political culture is causing the problems that make people want to come to the US.

My counter-proposal is that we should let Mexico annex us, but they have to swallow the thing whole. I suspect that most of the toxic aspects of the Mexican culture would get ironed out pretty quick, and our food would get better.

4/12/2006 2:36 PM

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Monday, April 10, 2006

First Anniversary

I have missed my first anniversary. This is not out of character. I also missed my eighth birthday party. I couldn't find my friend, so I was off playing in the woods with his younger brother. We found a snake in the stream and decided it was poisonous. We ran all the way home screaming. I arrived just in time to get the last of the cake and melted ice cream. The party was breaking up. My mother had kept twenty kids, including my good friend, amused for a couple of hours, with no guest of honor. To be honest, I still feel bad about it, but I have so many other things to feel bad about. I think I'll take a walk down to the woods and see if I can find a snake or two.

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Silent Partner

Varifrank has an excellent essay on immigration. Here's another one posted on Jane Galt.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

To The Union

The world is a complex place. In the US there are all sorts of people and groups acting independently, whose motives are unknown, whose plans are unchecked, whose information is unlinked into the mass of American voters. For us, this has actually been a virtue. We have so many such entities in this country, scheming and plotting against each other that, for the most part, they balance each other out, doing damage for sure, but limited damage. Reasonably good decisions end up being implemented by the Law of Large Numbers, and the best interests of the nation are tolerably served.

The country is presently polarized on the issues of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the "Global War on Terror". Now, you probably have chosen sides very firmly. Most people have, and once they pick sides, what happens? The answer is that they end up migrating into one echo chamber or the other. The forces of segregation are many and subtle, but people do separate, and when they separate they isolate themselves. Which is not so terrible if the groups are compatible or small, but it becomes a social risk over time. Think about the effects of the Protestant revolt from the Catholic Church. People are still dying from the results 500 years later. The current horrifying examples are the ongoing genocides in Africa, including this impending campaign that most people are unaware of.

So you must overcome the ill effects of these separations by forcing recombination at some level. In the US we do it at the top by means of national political institutions. Dissidents must recombine into one of the major parties in order to have any impact at all, and when they do, they must give ground -- painful but necessary. The other choices are surrender or surreptitious rebellion. An example of such forced combination would be the Dixiecrats who used to make up such an important and unnatural component of the Democratic Party. This alliance kept the liberals in power, but essentially prevented the end of the era of virtual slavery in the South. An example of surrender would be the post civil rights somnolence of the religious right. Politics,they thought, was a distraction and a temptation; we can't win at that game. They have since changed their point of view.

Open revolts, such as those by the Weathermen, Earth-Firsters, clinic bombers and the church burners in the South are usually suppressed quickly. More subtle attempts, such as the reign of J. Edgar Hoover in the FBI, can go on for decades. The Klan was, of course, the most successful. Still more subtly disguised revolts can be very hard to counter. I'm thinking about the Textbook Rebellion, growing stronger since the seventies. It may have reached it's high water mark in Dover, Pennsylvania, by overreaching, but it has had its way for decades, politically sanitizing public education without anyone noticing.

Some have pointed to actions by the MSM, such as the fortuituously exposed report by Mary Mapes/Dan Rather based on a forged document. The hidden bias of reporters supposedly represents an example of a subtle rebellion designed to thwart the will of the legitimately elected government. On the contrary, it may be that segregation of liberals into the MSM doesn't happen consciously, but represents a natural selection process that can't be directly countered by conservative efforts. It may be that a cabal of media elites reports directly to Jerusalem, or perhaps Moscow. I doubt it though. I'm personally a strong advocate of the free press, and I believe that the modern MSM news organization is not politcally biased, per se. I think that it is corporately biased towards two opposing forces: the desire for a good story that sells and the fear of offending any major part of the audience. As reporters move up the organization, these forces mold them into "liberals". I challenge any young conservative to follow the same route without becoming so molded.

The real secret rebellion is among those people who try to trick the MSM into reporting stories their way. Leakers, spinners, forgers and liars are the daily companions of the press. The world of reporters is indeed very complex, and fortunately it makes them skeptical, but even veterans like Dan Rather can be fooled. Of course Dan is from Texas, not Missouri. Did you remember he's from Texas? So is Walter Cronkite, though he was born in Missouri.

I consider myself a liberal, but I am in favor of the war. Since it was easy for me to decide, and since I am a liberal, I've kept my mind open, and I try to listen carefully to ideas from both sides of the issue. If you're also a hawk, you should take the time the read this article about a Lt. Col. who left the Pentagon due to the Iraq buildup, and this article about Bunny Greenhouse, both admirable individuals. After reading these pieces, please try to tell me that there are no cabals in the Bush administration.

On the other hand, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean you don't have enemies. Those against the war should try reading this piece in the American Thinker, or this from the Washington Times, or the Phyllis Chesler essay I cited in January. Now tell me that we are going to be able to assimilate this culture into an international lovefest. Islamists are now participants in the American political free-for-all. Unfortunately they are inserting themselves through the mechanism of surreptitious rebellion, notably through organizations such as CAIR.

What should they be doing in Iraq? Right now the depredations of the extremists on many sides are leading to increased segregation. We're informed that families are fleeing from formerly happy homes in mixed neighborhoods into self-enforced ethnic ghettos. Things were better under Saddam, at least in this way. A ruthless central government made ethnic differences less important. Years ago, I knew an Arab who married a Kurd. Now, an Arab can't even get into the Kurdish parts of Iraq. You can easily see that people are self-segregating because of paranoia, paranoia induced deliberately by extremists. That's always been the tactic -- divide and conquer. In fact, the situations that allow for uniting of disparate groups have always been rare and precious. It takes statesmenship and determination to resist the natural tendency toward disintegration. That's what they need in Iraq.

In US cities there is, I believe, a tacit policy of pairing police officers who represent different demographic categories. The strong bonding that occurs between partners gives them a chance to understand each other better and to learn to use the diverse viewpoints and social knowledge to their mutual benefit. I think we should have formalized that practice when building the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army. I believe that what really happened is that the Police are mostly Shia and the Army is mostly Sunni. What diversification exists is usually across units rather than within. I don't know, maybe the need for rapid mobilization outweighs any touch-feely concerns for diversity enhancement, but proactive measures to enhance mutual assimulation (musimulation?) are necessary at some point to counter the centrifugal energy currently evident. I'll give as an example of successful fusion efforts that of the US Army, which has contributed very strongly to interracial understanding in the States.

The general principle for healing fissures is to foster connections at the lowest level rather than the highest. We have done very well in the US with the Philadelphia Compromise -- federalism and states rights, democratic principles and Constitutional protections, checks and balances. Nevertheless, the whole system is only one step away from failure. We should not have designed a system that pushes the resolutions of difference to the top, but rather forced them to the bottom. Abraham needs to shake hands with John and Mohammed, every day, every place.

4/6/2006 6:22 PM

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wishful Thinking

The strongest argument against the invasion of Iraq has always been that our leaders have always overestimated our capabilities, underestimated the enemy and prepared well only for events that will never occur. I certainly agree with this assessment. It's a sad fact of life that the political leadership can never seem to process the analytical aspects of warfare. I recently stumbled across a profound summary of this phenomenon as discerned from the last century of warfare.

The article, spotlighted by the US Army, is entitled: "Over By Christmas": Campaigning, Delusions and Force Requirements by Major General Jonathan B. A. Bailey, CB, MBE, PhD, retired from the British Army. I'm guessing that the article is considered controversial. It certainly makes Bush, Cheney, Rumfeld look foolish. The opening salvo implies that they can't help themselves:

… [T]he evidence of the past hundred years seems to be that we have an incorrigible reluctance and/or inability to make accurate assessments as to the likely length, meaning and outcome of military operations and what is or has been required to succeed in them. We have been poor judges of time and its patterns when it comes to military matters, or more specifically to campaigning, erring on the side of lethal optimism and wishful thinking in the face of the readily available facts. This suspension of critical faculties has led to serious distortions in preparing armed forces for the challenges that face them. It seems that Clausewitz's urging-"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war upon which they are embarking"[2]-has been in vain.

He makes the point that professional soldiers may doubt the mission, but usually aim to implement it in the best possible way. It is the job of the "political masters" to make the value judgments:

... [S]hould national aid programs in a theater of operations be directed primarily to secure campaign success, or to achieve some more general moral imperative such as the alleviation of global poverty? Such distinctions will be very real and controversial when ordering priorities of expenditure.

... Military establishments and their political masters have often colluded in their self- deceptions and the fantasy of short, decisive and cheap wars. Armies have been constructed to succeed in the wars of a character which their masters would wish to fight; and not for the wars which the evidence tells them are nonetheless likely.

He concludes with an astounding and fatalistic remark.

We are after all but actors in a long-running "human comedy."

I suppose we have to credit the General for his insight and forgive him for his hopelessness. The US/Coalition military is an amazingly effective human organization. Within the scope of its responsibilities it functions as a single mind. The political structure is not so integrated. In a number of countries the military is actually the most coherent social structure, sometimes stepping in to save the country from itself. Turkey and Pakistan come to mind. I certainly wouldn't want that to happen here, but one can envy the kind of organization that produces such clear thinking, so different from the political posturing we hear from our leaders.

Does the article convince me to change my position? Not in the least. Everybody and their brother can tell you that we have made mistakes, but that doesn't begin to address the issue of whether we need to fight the war. In my estimation this is truly a global war being fought on every possible front simultaneously. Since we have chosen to stay our swords, for the most part, we have opted for a cold war that must be fought everywhere all the time. Judging from the recent price attack by Russia on European gas supplies, by its recent intelligence betrayal, and by its support for Iran and Belarus, we have to assume we are also still fighting the Soviet Empire. Daniel Pipes has pointed out repeatedly that we are fighting fifth-columns in the form of Islamist organizations and leftist sympathizers at home in the US, not to mention Europe, and we still don't act as if we know who the enemy is. We are being undermined constantly by propagandists of every stripe. Of course, our biggest opponent is ourselves. We weary of war too easily, even when it is cheap and necessary.

There is some encouraging news in Iraq, however (encouraging to me anyway). Wretchard at Belmont Club has posted a number of long analysis pieces recently, quoting Iraq the Model, Bill Roggio and Austin Bay, which seem to indicate that we are eliminating the extremes in a serial fashion, tempting, provoking and then attacking. First we work on the Sunni extremists with the aid of the Shia. Then we work on the foreign Al Qaeda element with the help of disgruntled Sunnis. Next we'll work on the Sadrists, with the help of the Sunnis and the rest of the Shia, perhaps. It will be called "Operation Fallujah in Baghdad" and it will be a mess. At the end of this iterative process, we expect the moderates to be the only ones left standing.

4/4/2006 2:06 AM

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