Thursday, October 19, 2006

Glossolalia

I was paging through the TigerHawk site the other day when I stumbled upon a very interesting post talking about the Global War on Terror in a way that made me feel that the author truly understood the issues. There was no mention of Vietnam, so it couldn't be a Democrat, and no weasel words about the President's mistakes, so obviously it couldn't be a Republican running for office:

... Why is it so hard to see the nature of this war?

It should not be difficult to see clearly who our enemies are. Every major Islamic fascist leader has openly identified the United States as their prime target, and repeatedly promises the creation of a new, global, "caliphate" where Islamic fascism will rule mankind. This language comes from both Sunni and Shi'ite fanatics, whether Arab, Persian, Indonesian, American, or British.

We are fighting Islamic fascists in two forms: states like Iran and Syria, and organizations like al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

And yet we are foolishly reluctant to come to terms with this terrible reality. It's an old, sad story isn't it? Over and over again, our enemies announce their intention to attack us, and we refuse to believe them. Hardly anyone took Mein Kampf seriously, and when Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the table at the U.N., announcing, "We will bury you," it was widely treated as a moment of comic relief. ...

... Paradoxically, when we refuse to criticize anybody, we end up patronizing everyone, which is offensive to everyone and self-defeating. It makes a mockery of freedom of speech, and traps us in the discredited nonsense of moral equivalence. This war is not between two morally equivalent sides; it's a war between brutal totalitarian fascism and freedom. Our freedom, not just freedom for Iraqis and Afghans. We are the fascists’ prime target, and they intend to impose a brutal tyranny on those of us who survive their onslaught.

Islamic fascism is the great test of this generation. When we fail to fully grasp the nature of our enemy and the urgency of our victory, our own people become confused and divided, and the fascists are encouraged to believe that we’re afraid of them. ...

Imagine my chagrin to discover that the author of this sincere, intelligent sounding speech was none other than Rick Santorum. He has, unfortunately, earnedmy reluctant respect, in this regard at least.

Why is it that the people I have so little in common with can be so right on this issue, whereas the people who speak my language in every other way are so pathetically obtuse? I really don't know what I'm going to do here. I simply can't bring myself to vote for this narrow-minded, elitist, moralistic, fundamentalist, anti-scientific, corporate-stroking, monopolist-enabling retrograde. He must be channeling someone.

10/19/2006 10:47 PM

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Folishness in High Places

One thing people need to understand about Rep. Foley is that he was not really elected. He was "promoted" progressively by a political infrastructure that indirectly rewards sin and corruption. Honestly, I say this without knowing a single thing about Rep. Foley.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say I’m Senator Warbucks, a good Republican from the state of Disrepair, and two Republican candidates are being proposed to run for the House in District 666. People in the party want my opinion, and I probably want to give it to them whether they want it or not. Candidate A is a good all-around guy, not too flashy, but nothing nasty in his background. Believe me, I would know. I know where all the bodies are buried. Now Candidate B is more charismatic, probably able to move the Party forward, has lots of influential friends and seems pretty smart. Unfortunately, he’s got like a whole ream of dirt. You’d have to know where to look, but it’s definitely there. Now, if not for the dirt, I’d have to go for Candidate A, but as it is, Candidate B is a no-brainer.

That’s crazy isn’t it? No, B is the clear choice because 1) he’s good for the Party, 2) he can’t run against me, and 3) I can get rid of him whenever I want. You decide which of these reasons is most important. Essentially, I will have a workable slot where I have complete control.

Now imagine that there are a couple thousand people like Sen. Warbucks running loose in Washington. Most of them are decent people who want to do the right thing for the country, but they have friends to stroke and status to maintain. Situations arise faster than they can work the agenda, and hard choices have to be made all the time, and we need to raise lots of money. God is this fun! You sort of lose track of the time. When it’s time to depart from the stage, no one goes willingly. A lot of damage can be done and the welfare of the country becomes a secondary concern. Oh, well. At least I got a building named after me.

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There are several theories about the problems of democratic governments. It is necessary to explain how the people in charge seem to be consistently worse than the populations they represent. The Slick Willy theory is that people without conscience have an advantage in the contest. The Tammany Hall theory is that everything is rigged. Mr. Smith will just have to do what we say. The Don’t Delay theory is that motivated and innocent folk start at the bottom, move upward by luck and charisma, but somehow get corrupted by the exposure to temptation, by the mechanics of government, by requirements of compromise and the very social qualities that attracted the voters in the first place.

Actually, I believe it is a combination of all three. There is an algorithm in place that is not producing the quality of leaders that we wish for, not even the quality of leaders that we deserve. It filters out the good ones by scaring them off or undermining them, it corrupts the successful, and it handcuffs the effective. Given the countervailing forces, it is a testament to the basic decency of human nature that our reps are as sincere and hopeful as they are.

I’m really not being cynical here. I’m just trying to understand why things work out the way they do. It is my considered opinion that we need to change the algorithm, and I believe we can. That’s not cynical is it?

10/17/2006 1:39 PM

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Quiet

Salman Rushdie, once famously targeted for assassination by the Ayatollah Khomeini, has given an interview to the Belfast Telegraph.

... It horrifies Rushdie that so many people in his natural political home - the left - don't get it. They seem to imagine that when people call for a novelist to be beheaded for blasphemy, they are really calling for a return to the 1967 borders, or an independent Kashmir, or an end to the occupation of Iraq. ...

... III: The quiet American, and the art of slitting our own throats

Rushdie has looked down the barrel of Islamism, smelt its cordite, and survived. So he is perpetually being asked - how do we lift the collective fatwa on our transport systems, our nightclubs, our cities? How do we scrape meaning from his misery? "When people ask me how the West should adapt to Muslim sensitivities, I always say - the question is the wrong way round. The West should go on being itself. There is nothing wrong with the things that for hundreds of years have been acceptable - satire, irreverence, ridicule, even quite rude commentary - why the hell not?

"But you see it every day, this surrender," he says. He runs through a list of the theatres and galleries that have censored themselves in the face of religious fundamentalist protests. He mentions that the entire British media - from the BBC down - placed itself in purdah during the Mohammed cartoons episode. "What I fear most is that, when we look back in 25 years' time at this moment, what we will have seen is the surrender of the West, without a shot being fired. They'll say that in the name of tolerance and acceptance, we tied our own hands and slit our own throats.

10/14/2006 1:29 AM

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hopkins Hogwash

The Washington post is aiding and abetting a crime against the truth by paying any attention whatsoever to the Johns Hopkins study and its magic 100,000 number which has now become 655,000. This was originally a rough attempt to find a rough number. There were so many flaws in the original work, published in The Lancet, that the estimate had to be characterized as a SWAG. The effort, however, was forgivable in that everyone knew that the circumstances were difficult. Don’t forget that the original estimate was not 100,000 but rather a spread, a confidence interval, from 8,000 to god-knows-what. There was considerable nudging, if not fudging, to get that bottom number over zero, into the realm of dubious significance. Use of a point estimate of 98,000, quickly rounded off to 100,000 in the public’s mind, was statistically unjustified and politically inflammatory. Why do it?

Forgiveness is no longer an issue because sanity is. There are, they say, or at least as Gilbert Burnham says, shall we round off again, two-thirds of a million dead people in Iraq who would not have died if the US had stayed at home. Yeah, we been busy. My question is, compared to what? The concept of excess deaths implies that we know what would have happened. We had an unstable situation that could have gone any direction. Who knows what Saddam would have done and who knows what someone else might have done to Iraq if we hadn’t acted?

My second question is, who’s to blame? We went into Iraq as a strategic move to change trajectory of Islamic radicalism. We went in as a preemptive move to forestall progressive deterioration in the political environment of the Middle East. We went in, among the many other reasons, for the charitable purpose of restoring a semblance of civilized life to a beleaguered people. Despite our motives, people have died and suffered. I don’t know the numbers, and neither does Gilbert Burnham, no matter how he might posture.

Many people have died at American hands because they have taken arms against us. Is that our fault? Yes, you might say, because they are defending their country. I’ll give you this, some of them were motivated by patriotism and were killed by our soldiers. Some of them were Baathists with blood on their hands. Can I subtract those? Some of them were Sunni ethnic supremacists who took joy in slaughtering Shiite police recruits. Do we need to take the blame for those deaths? Both sides? Many Iraqis were killed by simple criminals, released by Saddam for the explicit purpose of inducing chaos in a post-Saddam Iraq. If a man threatens to kill his family rather than face charges, what should the police do about it? Are they culpable if the man carries out his threat?

Some of these postulated "excess" deaths are attributed to public health issues. How do the researchers know what the health status of Iraq would be after four and a half years? What would be, for instance, the health status of the Marsh Arabs as Saddam continued for four years to drain and poison the swamps? People are dying for lack of electricity, for lack of drugs, for lack of gasoline. Americans have tried to bring these things to the Iraqi people but have been repeatedly thwarted by violent fanatics who wish the people to have nothing that Americans provide. Should we accept the blame for such deaths?

What does Gilbert Burnham counsel us to do? What does he think will happen in Iraq if we leave? Will he count the bloodbath that follows against us as well?

I agree with Burnham that we are culpable. We have caused many of these deaths. The fault is ours. Inaction was our sin. We are to blame for not acting much, much sooner. It would have been a lot easier to suppress all these evils if we had done it in 1992 instead of 2002.

I have talked about the Hopkins study in earlier posts, here, here, here, here and especially here for example, and other people have done better studies.

10/11/2006 9:58 PM

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

The War Against Lucifer

Bio-hackers. Wrap your mind around that concept. Unlike nuclear weapons technology, biotechnology is relatively cheap and hard to monitor – a lot like the underground culture of Web crackers. I don’t believe the "Singularity" is near, but I do believe that changes in the next decade or two will be coming fast and piling on. This article points out the arms control problems when you have Al Qaeda with Bugs.

People do not give enough credit for the determination and wisdom, care and caution, dare and gumption, that went into winning WW III, the "Cold" War. An incomprehensible mesh of lifetime efforts mixed with angst-ridden decisions will never be completely understood. Make no mistake, no one lost this war except the taxpayers, and they got good value for their money. The states of the former Soviet Empire will all, eventually, be better off than they were, and the abatement of risk bodes well for Humanity’s long-term survival. It also bodes well that we can solve such enormous problems, because future problems will be of comparable severity.

… Other technologies have appeared almost out of nowhere, moving rapidly from fundamental research to applications. These include RNA interference, which allows researchers to turn off certain genes in humans or other organisms, and synthetic biology, a fledgling field recognized only since about 2002, intended to allow engineers to fabricate small "biological devices" and ultimately new types of microbes.

Between 1990 and 2000, the speed of DNA synthesis increased more than 500 times. …

The nature of future problems is such that we currently do not have the social structure to deal with them. The aggregation of 50 states in relatively uncontested lands took two hundred years of monumental efforts, combined with immense happy accidents. We have faults. We are what we are, but we are on the whole, a very good thing. Unified effort, however, a prerequisite to solving world problems, remains such a difficult thing that despair is a justifiable temptation. Canada and the US, sister states with a great deal in common and extremely little friction for the present, are unmotivated toward, and incapable of, designing a sensible political conjunction. The European Union is motivated, but even less capable. The Puerto Rican independence movement remains alive and strong after a century despite the advantages Puerto Rico has found as part of the US. Most of its citizens are as comfortable on the mainland as they are on the island, but nothing happens. How many proponents will it take to make Puerto Rico a state?

I was reading about Simon Bolivar the other day. He endeavored to unite Spanish speaking South America. He was widely admired, just as Vacslav Havel was in Chechoslovakia, but accommodation could not be made. He gave up in despair and went home, or rather away, to Spain. There were subsequently wars among the states of Peru, Chile and Bolivia, which despite its landlocked status, defiantly retains a navy that will return to the sea one day, one day when Arthur returns perhaps. Despite all the shared history, they could not find a way to unite.

That is the nub of things. How do we meld our separate superorganisms into a united network? Frightening as all this new biotechnology is, social science is where the real action is going to take place -- at least if we plan to survive.

10/7/2006 1:05 PM

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Founder's Lookahead Problem

There is a good post at Belmont Club, most of the posts at Belmont Club are good, but this one has more interesting comments than many. This subthread on the Constitution, initiated by Cedarford (they call him C-4 after the explosive, I think), was too interesting to moulder in comment limbo. He points out (as he has in the past) the undeniable fact that the US is almost unworkable, that the government has insufficient authority and flexibility to do its job. The Constitution, he says, is obsolete and politically unfixable. The consequent sanity gap is being plugged by activist judges (which is fine by me) and a tacit collective agreement to look the other way when real work needs to be done.

Cedarford said...

Red River - We need a constitutional amendment for Voter ID.

We know that the Constitutional Amending process is broken - impossible to do unless there is near-unanimous bipartisan support for doing so.

So errors, obsolete portions, and archaic terms continue to accumulate. Major flaws in the Constitution like no continuity of government in a nuclear attack, lack of a line item veto, confusing war power provisions, lifetime appointment of a badly flawed Federal judge, encroachment of the Feds onto State Rights are deemed "unfixable" - or worse, at the sole discretion of an unelected judiciary to hold their own little mini-Constitutional rewriting to divine "what the Constitution really meant" through "analysis" of unwritten emenations and penumbras..

Most nations recognize, most organizations recognize that constitutions, charters, code must be subject to revision and correction every 50 years or so to remain vital and relevant.

The Constitution of 210 years ago was a great old thing...wonderful, other than the Civil War...for getting much of what America became - right for so long. But it is long, long overdue for a real cleanup and correction of some bad provision or provisions the Fed Courts have perverted into different meaning.

The time is coming...unfortunately...it will be when we, The People - not the Courts - are empowered by necessity of a growingly dysfunctional, ossified, uncompetitive America incapable of waging war or peace effectively --to sit down With lawyers and fix the obsolete, archaic, or just flat wrong elements of the Old Paper...

10/05/2006 09:28:39 PM

2164th said...

C-4, you are off your game when you say:

... "The Constitution of 210 years ago was a great old thing...wonderful, other than the Civil War...for getting much of what America became - right for so long. But it is long, long overdue for a real cleanup and correction of some bad provision or provisions the Fed Courts have perverted into different meaning."

Do you really believe this current generation of ill-informed, poll driven, media-manipulated Americans is the right one to change and rearrange the US Constitution?

Repeat after me: "Hanging Chad".

10/06/2006 01:54:25 AM

10/06/2006 06:43:20 AM

Teresita said...

Do you really believe this current generation of ill-informed, poll driven, media-manipulated Americans is the right one to change and rearrange the US Constitution?

Yeah, how would you like Rosie O'Donnell to fix the 2nd Amendment, Bush to fix the 4th Amendment, and Alberto Gonzales to fix the 8th Amendment? Besides, you can't just sit down and change it, because the Constitution itself calls out a different procedure that involves the legislatures of 3/4ths of the States. Cedarford's only hassle is with the current interpretation of the document. I know it's a slow process (by design) but Cedarford should vote for Presidents and Senators who will install SCOTUS judges who see things your way.

10/06/2006 06:44:35 AM

Well, I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I have often thought that we treat the Constitution like the Torah. No one would have the courage to correct it for fear that others might make incorrect changes, not to mention that God would strike us dead. The actual accumulation of precedents and legal theory is more like the Talmud. Crazy old judges have pushed analogies and intimations of intent so far that the result defies common sense. The TV remote is comparable to a wagon wheel. You can pick it up to retrieve something underneath it, such as a book or a child’s leg, but you can’t move it to carry a load unless its already moving of its own, as down a hill. So beginning at sundown, as opposed to sunset, of Shabat, we can watch only that station which is already playing, unless it is showing the cooking of an animal in the milk of its mother, in which case we can drop the remote hoping that the impact will change the channel, just as we could stop the rolling wagon wheel by putting a rock ahead of it. [ed: not a real example]

I believe that the Constitution is fixable, but we have to get a whole lot better at talking things over, a whole lot better at merging the collective wisdom, before we take the chance. A leadership of alternating ideologues, which seems to be our pattern, will never be trusted enough to allow such delicate surgery.

10/7/2006 1:23 AM

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