28 February 2008

yank tanks


I just posted this because it's British with all it's glorious Britishisms. Yank tanks = much better than 4x4 or truck. Described as enquiries, rather than shoppers. The disturbing part is rather that the Brits are becoming somewhat distinctly more American.. which I don't approve of. But if there's a tax implication, I'll live.

secret shopping


This is utterly hilarious. The kinds of things people have to do to get by with this job.. gotta count the vanilla.. count the vanilla. I'm not sure I'd be wary of someone with a shopping cart full of condoms, but it would be a bit strange. That's not exactly a market that can be corned (or is advisable to stock up, it's not like there are sales). Maybe he said he was giving them out for a school program and people became more suspicious that way. I was however amazed at the cost of this type of research. Almost 3 million on cars alone? Granted the automobile report is like pure gold. It's not exactly cheap to buy things, especially the new things that industries come out with that are jacked up on price still (electronics especially). But it hadn't quite entered my mind how expensive it would be.

27 February 2008

i'm going to tax these profits


Have we had enough of these people who don't understand economics trying to make economic policy? How would raising taxes on these companies encourage them to increase supply (something they can't raise because drilling rights are often cut off by these same politicians who want them to increase supply), or decrease prices (something they can't do because again, they buy the oil first from the land or oil well owner). In fact what raising taxes on a corporation does is encourage them to do less. They would still be profitable at lower quantity of sale. Additionally most of these companies because of government regulation don't just pursue oil. It's become profitable to have other energy sources in a company portfolio. Are we taxing those too, or just the oil sector portion of it?

Finally what do they do with those profits? Two things usually happen. Either, the company takes them and shares them with it's public stockholders (if it's a publicly traded corporation). Which happen to be most of the American work force because energy companies have been golden childs on Wall St (thus subsidizing them for buying oil already in a way). Or they re-invest them in capital searches for new sources, alternative energy, etc as a means of competitive advantage. Which is precisely what we want them to do. The fact that oil is over $100 a barrel does not mean that oil companies or gas stations for example are raking in a huge profit on every barrel they sell. It's roughly 8%. People constantly overestimate the levels of profit in most industries, mistaking the large numbers for high margins. Most industries have enough competition to keep the margins down. Oil, because of some regulation and the legal collusion of OPEC, has a good deal of inefficiency present, but the margin itself is generally controlled and monitored. Which is why we have these silly price gouging complaints every summer when it's simply the market price for oil. There's very little chance of a large oil company gouging on price. Where I'd be concerned is the number of banks/insurance companies that have purchased naming rights for stadiums.. where is that money coming from? Money for nothing. If we want the price of oil/gas to go down, find ways to use less of it. It goes down then individually as it has less impact on us.

The greatest deal of hubbub has come over things like Exxon's CEO retirement package of 400 million over 20 years. Since this is like saying he's getting a 20 million dollar bonus per year, let's see what that means also. Did Exxon make billions of dollars as a company. They did and still do. Are they making more profit wise than other oil companies, they are. Could that be because of the CEO? Quite possibly. It's true that the hundreds of thousands of anonymous workers out there have done fine works of their own to deserve some compensation. I would prefer that a company take care of it's workers first and then also it's bosses because of the concept of enlightened capitalism (workers can be paid more per hour and be still more productive for a company for example). But for CEO's it's much like sports free agency. If someone does well, they can run off to another competing company if that company will give them more money. Usually a publicly owned corporation has a board that oversees some things like how much money the boss gets. If they approved this, it's a means of paying for talent of some sort. It is silly assumption that paying him this money takes it away from others, when in fact, it probably generated more money for those others (stockholders especially) than it takes away (net profit to me, negative 59 dollars, oh please take my 59 dollars I don't want it). I don't agree that a person should need 400 million in retirement benefits personally, but if that's what it takes to keep a talented CEO these days. I can live with that.

25 February 2008

health care mandates

"which he calls universal but which doesn't include a requirement that everyone purchase coverage, as hers does."

I'd like to know what happens if someone doesn't purchase health care coverage. What if they can afford it, but would rather buy more useful things (for them), such as training, education or housing. It is not up to the government to decide for us what our money is best used for always. It is true that we as individuals can be wasteful. But sometimes we are prudent, in comparison to government. Certainly a free market is apt to greater efficiency than a government mandate. So the two pertinent questions are, what happens if you don't buy it. And two, how do they enforce it. Even state mandates for auto insurance do not have even 85% compliance in some states. Considering the incorrect (inflated and useless, for reasons already examined) 47 million figure, that's roughly 15% of the total population anyway. So what's the difference? The other ~85% that do buy it now have more red tape, less options, and an industry that will have to supply something that people will have to have.. meaning it will be able to (and probably have to) raise prices anyway or go out of business.

People who have insurance tend to use it. Especially health insurance, which is seen as a right of use. The net effect is that it probably isn't a very profitable industry without some way to recover costs. Car insurance, people don't get into wrecks every year and make claims. Most people get sick and even without that, will go get routine stuff done or monitored, especially as they age. Hillary's plan destroys the ability or interest of the young to take care of their health because they will in effect be subsidizing the old. She makes the insurance companies charge the same amounts regardless of any underwriting they would normally do to compete on price. This is again economic suicide for an entire industry. It is necessary for insurance, an industry based on measuring risks, to offer price discrimination based on those risks. People with very complex or deadly illnesses that require expensive treatment or invasive procedures probably should expect to pay more for insurance over time, with the notion that it will be still cheaper than not having insurance at all because they are already spreading their own individual risks over a very large population. The idea that this is somehow 'unfair' ignores some vital points. True that people born with or who develop at an early age complications may be at a severe disadvantage. It should be possible for a insurance company to take into account the age and other overall health factors of a person and offer some means of providing coverage, albeit at still a substantial premium. To me it strikes me as substantially less fair to charge the remainder of a healthy population much higher premiums to cover these few. This happens anyway to a degree. But this has the effect of alienating people who do pay and do not really 'need' the coverage (and making it harder for them to get it approved when it is) and not at all encouraging or rewarding them for making healthy choices for themselves. Health insurance is not necessarily in the health care business, but it could be allied in some way by providing some incentive in a positive direction. This in the long run is in the health insurance company's best interest anyway as it lowers the amounts they pay out when their clients are healthy. I do not see that they are in the business of discouraging health, but it's not a clear battle for health yet either.

24 February 2008



These are great news. Mostly because they point out how stupid Hollywood can be, just before it tries to pat itself on the back for how great it tries to be. Or thinks it is. I believe Halle Berry actually accepted her razzie a few years back in person, one can hope some actors/actresses have a proper level to stoop down when they've failed. My understanding is Nick Cage, John Travolta and such will not be threatened by Lohan's 'rising' stock in the arena of utter movie catastrophes.

It is strange how people who get nominated or even win Oscars then turn around and do ridiculously and obviously terrible movies. Paychecks I guess? But then, Cage and Travolta haven't really ever been good actors anyway. Putting them together in a movie was inevitably terrible. I'm only glad to be able to pick out these movies before I get suckered into seeing them now days. It's only worthwhile to see a bad movie once in a while to have something to poke fun at and lament the fact that people were paid millions to help make something so unworthwhile, something even I could have done better for.

22 February 2008

factual politics, or not

Some things emerge from the debate. Mostly what I'm noting repeatedly in both campaigns, but especially on the Dems side, is a faith in the ignorance of the American voting population.


"Though the Arizona senator is a champion against wasteful spending, Clinton pointed to his support for the Bush tax cuts...colossal expenditures unpopular"... I think the IRS would be surprised to know that the record hauls of tax money they have from the last two years was a colossal expenditure. This is a concept that most people don't understand. When taxes are cut, to reasonable levels, the amount of money generated by those taxes actually increases over time. There's a delayed reaction, but despite the counter-intuitive nature of economics, it is true.

And second, McCain actually did not support them (despite her claims that he does) because tax cuts are expensive when they first come out. He wanted them tied to reductions in spending to compensate while the cuts took effect. They weren't, so the deficit spending began. He still only barely supports them and mostly because they do fundamentally strengthen the general economy, if not the government's influence over it.

So yet again, it's easy to poke at people when the facts are omitted from the war of words. Incidentally, I still don't like either party. But I'd still like to see them make factual arguments when attacking or debating once in a while. I'd also like the media to stop asking sappy questions intended for a personal response, because these people are not personal at all. Almost any question will be spun and twisted magically into a relation toward the public. Just stick to policy questions. I'd rather be bored than disgusted.

Speaking of policy questions, Hillary kept trying to bring up hillarycare, or health care. According to the media, this is an issue she 'understands'. She actually does not. Most of the figures being used as facts or problems are not. The 47 million figure includes people who are generally young and go without coverage as a choice. Choosing not to have coverage is a risk, but if instead the money goes toward purchasing a home, education, or other enriching activities, I can't fault their thinking. Without some immediate health risks and necessary expenses for medical care or prescriptions, I don't see a need for health insurance right now or next week, probably even next year. 30-40 years from now, sure (HSA baby). Under Clinton's plan, I'm fairly sure the element of that choice is removed because it implies mandates for coverage. Obama's plan has constantly been attacked because 'it doesn't cover everyone'. I'm not sure that everyone needs a doctor all the time to be healthy. His plan instead works to cover children. I can accept that children do need medical attention for things like vaccines and they're constantly getting sick or hurt from one thing or another anyway. But adults are free to make the adult choices of where their dollars will go (except if they're a parent, where they'd need to have some sort of coverage on their children). I'm not sure I like that plan much either, but it's certainly an improvement to have some options as individuals and some responsibility. Insurance as a general purpose instrument is long mis-understood. It works to pay money in case of traumatic events. Car accidents, home burns down, surgery. And so on. In fact medical insurance was essentially for the expensive stuff, the risk that such things would happen for years and not for basics. It has entered a massive spiral because medical care is more widely sought than before. More tests, more drugs, different basic surgerical procedures available. I'm not seeing that Hillary understands this any more than anyone else. She just sounds organized because she's been harping on it for decades. What is necessary is a means to reduce the demand and provide an understanding that spending 'other people's money' is not the way to fund our illnesses.

20 February 2008



In the old world I grew up in, Castro was the real Washington outsider.

For decades we pursued a policy of isolation to try to dethrone a man we disagreed vehemently with. That policy failed. Time and old age worked faster than the effects of an embargo with Cuba's easiest trading partner (us). Restrictions by other nations have eased or even been eliminated long ago. We have stubbornly used this isolationist tact to try to impose policy on Cuba (which was prior to Castro yet another Banana Republic that we installed or favored). Unfortunately, nobody has yet shown that embargoes work on dictators. Saddam got rich off of his (and so did the UN and some influential Americans/Europeans). Castro's Cuba suffered, but his popularity did not much waver. It is easy in an impoverished nation with a total or near total control over the flow of information to simply say that it is not his fault, it's the Americans. Or whoever. Were it not for them, we would have a paradise, yes.

This might be true, except that it's rather clear that socialist/communist ideology does not work in the long run. In retrospect, it might have been possible to simply wait it out and watch Cuba self-destruct as the Soviets did. But that apparently was politically nuclear to try that option. Cuban 'refugees' or immigrants are hardly fond of Castro, and the mere appearance of being tolerant or reasonable with Cuba because of this is a political death knoll in Florida. Since Florida was so essential in that infamous 2000 election, I doubt very much a major candidate will stress a moderating tone, even with Castro gone. Until someone we approve of goes in. Venezuela is in much the same category with the blustering idiot Hugo. Except they have oil, which everyone needs (and bauxite which is overlooked as a strategic resource). Cuba just has baseball players, cigars, and sugar, which only some people need. They used to export mercenaries to Africa, but I'm not sure if that's still viable. In any case, why we're still blocking ourselves out of the country, I don't know.

18 February 2008

get a little danger


So we recall the most beef ever, when there is a "remote possibility" of a person getting sick and not one person confirmed ill from it. We are truly stupid. The minor possibility of risk is treated as a reason to keep Americans safe from.. their food? I agree it's important to have some faith in the food supply.. but when stories like this circulate, it's hard to see how.

13 February 2008

one down


So Hizballah is out one mastermind. I guess that's useful in a way. It would be more useful if Iran or Syria has taken him out. But whatever. There's some use in capital punishment or political assassinations like this, but it's rare.

12 February 2008

ncaa rankings

I will divert my attentions in a few weeks toward the possible religion I actually follow, that being college basketball. In advance of this, I looked back over the various computer methods of ranking teams, picking games, and so forth. I discovered something which has been obvious for several years to analysts and serious fans of the game. They use the system that is fundamentally most useless to evaluate teams during the bracket setup: RPI. The RPI ratings system has become completely useless now that it has been re-weighted with the discovery of road victories as so slim and valuable. At no point does the RPI exceed even the completely subjective polls in it's ability to 'predict' games, meaning it has little to no value as an evaluational tool. Basically what the RPI does is measure the strength of scheduling that a team does. But it does not effectively measure the strength of each team. Which makes it fundamentally flawed because that is in a sense what it was intended to do, but not what it has been designed to do.

The result is that teams have learned to manipulate the system by scheduling aggressively. That may be by design, and is a fair and useful outcome. But to then use this to justify an entire rankings system which is then a component of the overall evaluational profile of various teams when potentially large sums of money are on the line for the bids that are presented or not presented as a result is not a justifiable situation.

Some examples. Drake is currently 6th in RPI. Granted they are 20-1 (2-1 vs top 50). More reasonable systems, even the subjective polls, have them somewhere between 15 and 30. I can accept that a team which has one loss but has played a mediocre schedule is still a good team, but not a top flight program. I saw another example looking over mock bracket projections. Complaints were logged because Vanderbilt was placed as a '10' seed. Which is roughly where I would put them if it were up to me (possibly lower still). RPI has them as the 11th team in the country, far cry from 40th. Nothing against a relatively decent academic program doing well in big time athletics (Stanford/Duke/UofM for example). But to conceive that they're doing that well when it's plainly obvious watching them that they're a good team, but not a dangerous one, indicates a serious flaw in the calculations or the assumptions used to make them.

Reversing the scales. Wisconsin is listed as 20th on RPI. I have them in the top 10. Kansas St is 32nd, I have them in the top 15. West Virginia is at 48, they're in the mid-20s on my scale. There are points of agreement. RPI's emphasis on road warrior types is useful, as poor quality road teams tend to get trounced in the neutral tournament style games later on. It puts a point on who a team plays. That's important. It's also important to play well or even win against who they play. And RPI doesn't evaluate this at all. It's true that having so much on the line tied to how much a team wins by in it's games has some ramifications that would be unsportsmanlike and fraught with equally bad side effects (gambling, teams scheduling mediocre teams to beef up scoring margins or teams sandbagging everyone for gambling purposes, different styles of play, etc). But it does seem that there must be a better fit curve out there to use than the current one which seems to track to nowhere in particular and doesn't do much good as an aide to making that last day of bracket building any easier.

if you are big and i am small

Then I am quick and you are slow.


I think this study is outdated a touch. But it is true that for whatever reason we haven't figured out that more tanks and troops and bombs do not win insurgent campaigns. It took a while for the military to either get its head free from the administration or free from its posterior. The study concluded things that most sensible military minds should already know: the easiest way to occupy or control a country is with a local government. Troops, or any other manner of coercion is probably counter-productive. So a multi-million dollar study was made to figure this sensible point of view out. Thanks much Pentagon.

But they do have this going for us.
Fighting over the Pacific rim. That's not exactly a new story for America. But it's somewhat silly to have to be fighting over the last several wars again (Span-Amer, WW2, Korea, Vietnam)... I think Russia is just doing the stuff we used to do to it when LeMay ran SAC and used to let the bombers wander into Soviet airspace and see how many fighters would come up to intercept. Turnabout is hardly fair, but it is funny. Except for the nuclear weapons involved.

11 February 2008

factual beliefs, i think not

Fellow blogger pointed me in this direction, but I felt it required some illuminating points.

"an ABC news poll was cited, indicating that despite educators' criticisms, a majority of the American public would agree with the Creation Museum. In the poll, it was stated that 60% of Americans believe that "God created the world in six days."[48] In a March 2007 Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 48% of respondents agreed with the statement "God created humans pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so"

This is from wiki's article on the creationism museum not far from where I'm entrenched at the moment. A comedy show would provide me with cheaper and less depressing commentaries on the state of human thought (what with all the jokes about being stoned or drinking). People who back such thinking as to believe that since most Americans agree, it must be right or true, do not understand basic logic or the fundamental roots of science. As evidenced by the funding and creation of the museum in the first place despite several hundred years of scientific thought refuting any validity and even advancing church dogma which separates itself from mythology. The point of science or even the understanding of so called objective knowledge is that it doesn't matter how many people believe one thing or another, but it matters what the facts say. There are no facts in religion. Only beliefs.

The Bible, particularly the old testament, is very shaky on any level of valid facts it includes. It can be an inspiring work of fiction based on some events which may or may not have happened in some form (certainly not in the mythological sense that the story would have us believe). But mostly it is a religious or spiritual interpretation that matters. It is not to be taken literally because it has no shred of evidence in it's support. Appropriate use of church beliefs and dogma aligns itself not with spinning tales about natural history but in aligning people with each other as respectful individuals. Obviously most churches fail miserably at this second level evidenced by the volumes of church-going people who were suspicious of Romney on the basis of him being a Mormon. I had valid reasons to be suspicious of him, but that was not one of them. Being a Mormon was in fact statistically less valuable than being black, traditionally a group many Americans have trouble with and have a basic inherent mistrust built up on (mostly built upon misconceptions). It still outweighed being a Muslim or especially being an atheist, but suffices to say, religious people tend to be among the most bigoted despite the teachings to be tolerant.

In any case, the fact that 60% of Americans believe the 6 day story from the bible (especially since it is highly doubtful 60% of Americans have read it for themselves), is a discouraging bit of evidence. And not something that any organization should be proud of posting as a supporting document_ Were it not so profitable and an environment at least hospitable to being capitalistic, I should think I need to move before this country becomes a theocracy of idiots. As it stands, it looks like I'll try to make my money first, then get out.

who are these grammy people


If anyone knows who the hell most of these people are and why they get awards for the crap that populates the airwaves, please let me know. I've heard of Herbie (though knowing there was an album out this year, not so much). And two or three of the other winners have produced some actual music of which I'm familiar. I have no idea who this Winehouse person is, though apparently it's mildly ironic that a song entitled rehab was produced by a person who escaped from it. Or whatever that is when they let famous people out of rehab for no apparent reason.

09 February 2008

60 mins


Nobody on here used the argument that pennies are a diet pill. They cost more calories to carry around than to spend on food. Which might make for an interesting social cost. But in any case, I hate pennies. And would welcome the capacity to do this:
"remember when it was introduced some wags did things like go to the supermarket and buy a bunch of fruit or veggies one piece at a time. Like put each grape or mushroom through and it gets rounded down to nothing and is free. Do that over and over and you get a whole bunch/bag free.". I think that would be fun, once or twice. It'd be easy to do late at night through the self-checkout lanes I should think.
In any case, with currency rapidly being removed in favor of electronic spending, a movement to remove the actual and truly useless currencies is long overdue. The idea that I have to carry around 2 or 3 pennies with me all the time to avoid getting more of them when I spend cash is ridiculous. 4 pennies is a true waste, you only get one back, why bother unless you have jars and jars of the things at home. Find something else to put Lincoln's face on and be done with it.

living large in america


I argued some time ago that farm subsidies were being misaligned with the costs of public health. While we do have other uses for corn now with energy concerns, I fail to see that we must subsidize it to the detriment of other crops with less caloric value. In fact it seemed to me that the people who should be getting farm subsidies were local produce growers, and not agri-business firms or the city dweller who happens to run a farm off in the boonies but never works on it himself (there is a tax break for this which is why it happens).

Why should fresh vegetables or fruit (and these are important because so few Americans eat them in sufficient quantity) cost so much per calorie compared with French fries and hamburgers? I enjoy them both at turns, but I freely choose to find myself eating the former because I can afford to. As the article's comments point out, grocers in poor neighborhoods are scarce and less frequented. A poor person working long hours to support a family has no incentive to come home and prepare a fresh, home-cooked meal, or even a portion therein. There's no time and energy left for this. Something can be done about this.

I'd agree that we should expect a population to grow laterally with the cheap availability of rich foods and technology which greatly eases our level of activity required to accomplish basic tasks. Riding a horse is considerable exercise in comparison to operating a car, to say nothing of merely sitting in one. Playing a video game (even a Wii or DDR) is much less impact, particularly with air conditioning, than playing in a park on a summer day. I can't argue that one is better automatically than the other. There are costs and consequences to strenuous exercise or deliberate diet cuts. Vegetarians must alter their diets to find certain deficient vitamins for example. But what we could be doing is balancing the costs such that it becomes a fair choice, at least in the arena of diet, and make nods to procure more active lifestyles when it might seem necessary to aid public health.

Fortunately there appear to be movements in the free market to do this anyway. Company health plans are offering bounties to people who join health clubs and start working out regularly or who start a diet, quit smoking, etc. Other companies are simply building gyms and clinics on site to give employees greater access to exercise and health care/advice. If the government simply takes off the gloves on the subsidies and gives us greater incentives to consume locally grown or produced foods (regardless of whether they're healthier or not), we as a society can mitigate some of these problems brought on by the ease from which we live today. I'm not totally convinced now that they'd have to go all the way and create penalties in the form of new taxes on unhealthier choices but that effort has reaped substantial benefits on smoking rates -- (http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/08/offshoring-lung-cancer/).
So it might not hurt as much as we'd like to think.

08 February 2008

common ground


This was an interesting point. In a country as diverse as America, I'm not seeing a reason to focus on the diversity of persons, rather the diversity of the interests that are collected, perhaps as a direct result. Intellectual diversity is of much greater value than mere cultural gaps. There is merit that appealing to different cultures helps with elections. But why? What about them appeals? Policy? Speeches? Values? What? The two most effectively claimed candidates for this are Hillary and Obama, who in effect are described as capturing the women or black voters. Again why? Because they're a woman or a black man? That seems like a paltry reason to vote to me. Both features are worthy of mention for the historical value implied (because America is still dominated by white men apparently), but in order for either to win elections they would also have to appeal to other demographics (those evil white men apparently).

Out of all the reporting on these racial/demographic voting trends, some of it has been useful in the way it indicates some biases. But again, what do these biases represent? Clinton is having trouble among young people and with white males. Ok, what does that mean? Obama gives nice speeches, which might inspire young people to take action in politics, but it's not clear that any particular policy issue has resonated (partly because his ideas aren't that different from Hillary's). White males just seem to plain not like Hillary, but again why? Because she's a woman? What's wrong with her besides her gender? Her history? Her positions on various issues? "Experience" in her case does seem to be a detractor, especially if she were to make it to the general election. Maybe she would win female voters, but again, why would she?

Curiously, very little of this reporting goes on in the GOP race, partly I would assume, because they're all white male candidates. But judging from the polling data, I think it is because GOP voters tend to judge based on issues or at worst, the vague and equally useless concept of values (as useless as demographics that is). That campaign has thus been staunchly focused on issues from the beginning because there were real differences on issues or records and no differences in demographics.

I'm not convinced this is a Marxist ploy as the article contends, but it does seem effective at explaining that gaps exist in this country without explaining why they do or what they mean. Are they artificial? Do they signal real problems? Should we even care? Why does it matter that Latinos vote for Hillary or that Cubans vote for McCain? The idea that reporting on the existence of a gap is newsworthy is not enough. Real reporters would conclude that this gap might mean something and would seek to explain it. Which is not editorializing. It's journalism. The fact that these gaps are merely expressed and not explained is in fact editorializing because it assumes that we would expect it to occur. I personally do not see a reason that any particular group of voters should act as a monolithic entity without some common issue that unites them. And that common issue is much more important than the genitals they have or the color of their skin.

05 February 2008

wiki at war


I'm confused. How does the artwork of Muslim scholars from the 12th or 15th century offend Muslims at all? Wiki did not post the Muslim cartoons from Denmark that riled up the Death to America chants again (even though the cartoons were from Europe). They posted art that was undoubtedly either influenced by or was an influence on the artwork of Christendom at the time, where depictions of Jesus are common and generally harmless (those "miracles" are hardly ever depicted in art that I can see).

I'm not sure what the purpose of Muslim censorship is, but it is obvious that during the height of the Ottoman empire, nobody cared much for the rule. While Judaism and Islam have strong aversions to idolatry and thus the physical depiction of holy figures or prophets, I think the point was to ensure that followers of those faiths gave worship to god and not to some physical, tangible, substance (which is obviously a ridiculous idea to worship something people can actually see and touch). That and to distinguish the new faiths from the worship of idols that preceded them in the sands of the Middle East. Either way, both faiths are both well-intentioned (not ascribing divinity to random objects sounds reasonable to a religious person) and horribly misguided (assuming that depictions of a figure important to that faith are in some way a misleading attribute to the faithful which doesn't sound reasonable to anyone but morons). In any case, as Wiki points out the provision is not a universal position in Islam (go look at Indonesia and their festivals for previous so called pagan rituals) and expresses only a vigorous minority view of Muslims. Which means they will use it because most of the world isn't a vigorous Muslim and those that are can turn off photos while browsing the site, avoiding whatever complications they might encounter with their religion.

Where this went on Wikipedia was the open source nature of editing pages allowed thousands of people to create accounts and attempt to remove the blasphemous pictures through editing. Wiki responded by locking down the page and slowing the editing process, leaving the pictures up. Apparently this is offensive, despite the pictures being 1) artistic concepts from the Muslim world 2) not in any way offensive in content beyond the accepted provision that Mohammed not be depicted and 3) not central to the article itself.

In addition the flame war has persisted over the title of "The prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him". Which has been abbreviated (I find this hilarious) as "pbuh". I can see where this is a useful thing to limit use of his name in speech and writing (imagine a world where Jesus' name was similarly limited, what a world!, ahh but I digress). But we're dealing with a general source in research (not a final source, much in the way a brush stroke does not necessarily create art so it is with wiki not being a definitive place of reason). It would be considerably tedious to retype or even to copy-paste this honorific title (at least in English, Arabic is a different story) every time his name was used during an article specifically dealing with his own history, words, and deeds, so practically every other sentence.

This is an unfortunate reality that the open source encyclopedia is likely to be destroyed by the most vigorous of people, the religious zealots. Much like everything else they touch. "Agents of intolerance". If I were John McCain, I'd be proud to have said that of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, or in this case the Council on American-Islamic Relations (which hasn't been addressed as such, but isn't impressing me with it's inspiration towards tolerance what with the expressed intention of making America a "Muslim" nation. No thanks the phony "Christian" one we have is bad enough). McCain apparently isn't happy he called them that. Sad really.

01 February 2008

Violent Radicalization Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007

I promised a blog on this. I think I calmed down, or not. It's long anyway because I looked at the actual bill. (yes, someone has to actually read the bills these people pass, especially when they change the rules so there's no debate).

This type of bill goes back to the passage of the Patriot Act and the type of activity goes back to 1798 and John Adams. More famously, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, headed by McCarthy supposedly to root out communists and communist sympathizers. But mostly to elect and re-elect McCarthy as a populist image. For whatever reason, it is decidedly more popular to appear pro-security (painted politically as anti-terrorism) than it is to respect the highest laws of our country and those idealized and even emulated around the world. This has been true for several years. Congress is far more prone to vote for the passage of items with the stated intention of restricting liberties solely on the basis that the law is supposedly a necessary anti-terror device for the security of our national interests. Overwhelmingly.

I've read quotes on occasion where some reservations were expressed about the legality of the bill they just voted on, essentially hoping the courts would over-turn it. This is difficult to do however because the government has a vested interest in keeping their intelligence and intelligence gathering apparatus secret. So what are we left with? We have to then examine the possibility, the stated intention, that these measures would enhance our security without drastically undermining our liberties. I can find no way in which they enhance security. HUAC did little to suppress communism at large and mostly found and blacklisted some high profile members of the media (Hollywood) for being 'too liberal' or otherwise appearing sympathetic to communist causes. It was found at the time that the abusive manner of operation and conduct of the committee was over-stepping boundaries by not affording witnesses any defense of their character while it was assassinated publicly and eventually was successfully challenged and shut down.

So what are we dealing with this time? The specter of danger has always been a shadow of American consciousness from the savage Indian to the savage Muslim. It has changed characters but the theme remains. Over-hyped dangers or, more precisely, mis-interpreted dangers brought on by a central arrogance in the American way of life, have dominated national agendas from day one. To compensate, our government has a history of suppressing dissent and discourse on the issue of the day. 1798 the issue was trade and a naval conflict with France. Adams acted to suppress dissent with the Alien and Sedition Acts which were eventually ignored and overturned. But the power of those acts was to jail and imprison people who opposed the government, not people who in someway directly supported a hostile cause. HUAC did not necessarily jail its victims, but it certainly managed to attempt to destroy their ability to work and live in an environment that was considerably hostile to even the appearance of communism. Opposing the activity of HUAC was not an action of communist sympathy, as voting against this legislation might be interpreted as terrorist sympathy today. It was instead an understanding that America has room for dissent and debate, even on ideas that we may not all agree upon or support. Terrorism, despite its power to unsettle and drive fear in a population, has roots which must be debated and understood to defeat it. Making claims that terrorist organizations have agendas, even though they be faulty or extremist dogma, is not a sympathetic claim.

In any case, on to the bill itself.
1)`violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.
-- I'm not sure how political, religious or social change is differentiated, especially in a Muslim culture, but okay. I can accept this premise as dangerous to a society because it follows that if one believes violent action is necessary to facilitate change they will act violently. Contrary to their beliefs, violent action is seldom necessary. Unfortunately for us, we are dealing with a population that is indoctrinated such that their own deaths or punishments are irrelevant to their cause (they've got nothing to lose)
2) `homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States , etc, etc
-- I'm familiar with the existence of homegrown terrorism. However, one would think that this sort of thinking would have had greater prominence after say, Oklahoma City. 9/11 was carried out primarily by agents from another country (one we have yet to declare war on). They carry however the distinction of being from a recognizable minority, that being radical Muslims. McVeigh was by contrast an all-American product who was just plain nuts. It's much easier to root out terrorists who don't remind us of ourselves and justify it as, well those people are dangerous but I am not. Keep in mind however that this is carefully worded not to exclude people like McVeigh and does not directly target Muslims as a direct threat to America (as it shouldn't, but this is not a good precedent to find good news from).

There follows a list of findings.
1) The development and implementation of methods and processes that can be utilized to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States is critical to combating domestic terrorism.
-- I have a novel solution, how about we try to understand what's so bad about living in America that violent radicalization is appealing in the first place. And how much 'domestic terrorism' do we really have? I know of plenty of sympathetic thinkers but very few who advocate or even condone violence.
2) The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.
-- Where? This sentence comes out of nowhere because we haven't seen a rise in 'homegrown' terrorist arrests, detentions, and activity being reported.
3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.
-- This is an ominous sentence. The Internet has also aided in lots of other forms of propaganda. But the general citizenry is not 'constantly' subjected to these unless by choice. Maybe it would be easier to simply keep tabs on these websites as they spring up and watch for active members.
4) While the United States must continue its vigilant efforts to combat international terrorism, it must also strengthen efforts to combat the threat posed by homegrown terrorists based and operating within the United States.
-- Again, who are these people operating within the US.. not defined..not good.
5) Understanding the motivational factors that lead to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence is a vital step toward eradicating these threats in the United States.
-- Finally a real finding that means something useful.
6) Preventing the potential rise of self radicalized, unaffiliated terrorists domestically cannot be easily accomplished solely through traditional Federal intelligence or law enforcement efforts, and can benefit from the incorporation of State and local efforts.
-- This also includes both some useful thinking and some unfortunate uh-oh moments. Many terrorists nowadays are not drawn from the traditional model of a refugee camp, they're self-actualized intellectuals in the Muslim world. Such people can very easily learn about or receive training and conduct operations freely independent of any Osamas. That's useful thinking. Unfortunately 'unaffiliated' could simply mean anyone who we don't like because again, they define very broadly who they're looking for.
7) Individuals prone to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence span all races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, and individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity, or religion.
--- Again, this is both good news and bad. No profiling? Maybe that's good, or maybe it's stupid. When the people likely to commit 9-11 style atrocities are all drawn from a particular religion and culture, why aren't we simply saying "hey if you're a Wahabbist Muslim here on an expired or student visa, we're looking for you"
8) Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.
-- Uhm, hooray. I'd like to think this is good, but considering the actions of the government in combating terrorism have not been looked upon with utmost legal standing.. this is probably more of a guideline than an actual hard and fast rule.
9) Certain governments, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have significant experience with homegrown terrorism and the United States can benefit from lessons learned by those nations.
-- Curiously it does not mention the governments of Israel, Pakistan, and Egypt. And wait. .Canada? Australia? They have lots of violent homegrown extremists?

To be fair the actual bill does some good things. I have no problem with coordinating the efforts of local and national law enforcement (which would be nice if they would do with say. .illegal immigration?). There are advantages to that. But I would be more comfortable with it if it was clear what they were cooperating on. And I don't see that we need to write a new law in order to make this happen. Basically, I'm not convinced we need a national commission to study why people become radical and violent activists for a particular cause.

There seems to be a common thread whether it's ELF, PLO, IRA, or just plain people who blow up abortion clinics. They are people who seem to believe that their act is just, or holy, and thus a necessary action. We use the same justification when we declare war on foreign nations. Sometimes it is indeed, just and necessary. Rarely the private wars of these citizens of the world is likewise. While we have done a poor job selling our current war to the public, it is equally clear that our foes have done a masterful job selling it to theirs (though not to anyone else). We should able to figure out why this is without resorting to publicly funded commissions. And we should be able to coordinate our law enforcement by stripping away regulations rather than writing new laws to justify it.