28 June 2009

A Chinese Gas Station - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

A Chinese Gas Station - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

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Not sure what the deal on reader is, so Sully's just getting his own links this way.

I was fascinated by the idea of Russia being a cheap Chinese gas station. The comparisons reminded me of what I heard a few weeks ago when the so called "brick" nations held an official economic session. Russia was compared more to Saudi Arabia than the others, and it was unclear how their general economy was functioning (although the price of oil has been rising to compensate for their failings of late). They produce almost nothing for export but raw materials, and of that almost all in energy. By contrast, countries Brazil and India have grown up large technology sectors AND have a broader cross section of raw material AND have more or less internally sustainable agricultural sectors. Unless fossil fuel energy remains of high demand, Russia is going nowhere. It's still China that looks like the dominant power to contend with over the next century. Russia is fast becoming a backwards afterthought, much they were throughout most of their history.

25 June 2009

MJ down?

but I have real news instead to care about

Since he did turn out dead from this, I realize this is a story. It should not be THE STORY. This was once a man who produced major musical records and was idolized around the globe. So his death should be a news worthy event. But it wouldn't be a major story to me unless he died say after the release of Thriller or while on tour or something where he could be considered to have something major to contribute to the world left or at the peak of his powers as an artist (a la Bruce Lee dying suddenly after Enter the Dragon). This is more like Elvis, the tragic footnote of the life of a person who was once king of the pop world. In both cases, they seem highly overrated by my count for musical contributions. At least the Beatles actually said stuff through their music in addition to selling syrupy pop music. Jackson always seemed like a corporate planned and marketed product. Sometimes the product was brilliant, entertaining, and flashy. I'm just not sure how much substance was being stirred in. His sister did much better at that (for a while). Marvin Gaye looks like the predecessor to the Michael Jackson era. To me that says "huge drop-off". Sort of like Jordan leaving nobody in his wake either in basketball. Took another 6-7 years for something more to arrive on the scene (for the Wade/Kobe/LeBron/KG superstar era). In the music world, that's about the time it took for hip-hop to arrive as a major social force (ie, consumed by suburban kids who drove the music business) after Marvin. And then another 6-7 years for rap to become a art just as packaged and syrupy as pop.

Meanwhile there are real events going on. Iran is still ongoing, but without major media there to see most of it, and without easy internet access to broadcast video or photo imagery that briefly captivated people, they don't seem too interested in discussing it. Africa has several major conflicts ongoing involving millions of refugees (along with Pakistan/Iraq/Afghanistan/Sri Lanka in Asia). There's a show trial in Burma involving a Nobel peace prize laureate. There's the new euphemism for sexual affair: "hiking the Appalachian Trail", committed by a man who seems far too boring to have ever been considered for President. Health care reform debates are ongoing, and likely to be intense over the next month or two. There's still a new SCOTUS appointee coming up along with various case decisions coming down over the next week (including an unpardonable decision not to legally reprimand the school principal involved for the strip search case, though at least they said it was unconstitutional policy to do it in the first place). The cap-trade (sort of) bill is still in limbo. The banks are actually still in limbo and nobody seems to realize this. Etc. At least some of these are things that get coverage from time to time.

But really. We must stop the presses to cover the divorce of Jon and Kate (who I've never heard of except in oblique references to the disproportionate amounts of media coverage they get, and by all accounts I've seen anybody could have had seen this coming anyway, making it a boring story of old news in the manner of modern media) and the sudden death of a long-fallen musical pop star. I'll settle for sports news and NBA trades leading up to the draft over the regular news right now if this is what's going to be talked about.

Updated slightly: In retrospect, Jackson's death is significant perhaps more than I feel it is. But this is largely because in my case I basically regarded him as an empty shell of a human being a long time ago. The genius or talent was used up and consumed in a brief and powerful passage of glory. And then there remained only the long tail of a decaying comet to marvel at. That's not very interesting to me I suppose. Perhaps that makes his actual societal contributions harder to evaluate. But it really doesn't seem like he did something revolutionary and powerful with his music itself. It was the flare surrounding the music that maintains the power and mystique. I contrast this with someone like Jimi or Marvin, where the performances had that mystique, but they involved his music, his real artistic work, as much as himself. It's hard to see much changing because someone's got a funky and fun dance move, and this is the reason I've never been impressed by Elvis either (the music just isn't as good as the mystique around it). It could also be the relative transformation of 80s sounds in general, the sort of artificial popular consumption drivel that made everything seem the same for the better part of a decade, and from which MJ was no different. Still though. When I look for some indication of a substance and a power that reaches me on any personal level, it's hard to find. Enjoying something on some aesthetic level is vastly different than being able to contemplate it with feeling or power, and it tends to me to suggest that it is the second form of enjoyment that has lasting and meaningful impact on the world when you're dealing with artistic expression. I'm just not seeing enough of it here. And what there was, there wasn't anything left. We used it all up a long time ago.

That's really the tragedy of this story.

24 June 2009

science is fun

But TV ruins it.

So over the weekend, in between the helping administer the cleaning to a family estate sale, I caught a National Geographic thing on magnetic fields. Like all such shows today involving science, the apparent backdrop of explaining complex things like Van Allen Belts and magnetic navigation is "the end of the world".

So the show takes about a half hour explaining how the magnetic fields are created out of the molten core of the planet and that somehow the core is hardening and the magnetic field dying, takes a left turn and explains that the magnetic fields (polar north/south) change over time and have done so repeatedly by weakening the fields just like now, and that somehow the planet and its animals are in danger because of these gradual random and significant changes, and then there's one line tucked into the end of the show about how there's no proof linking such changes to mass extinctions (or any extinctions of any kind).

Much like anything the history channel does on mega disaster or the Mayan prophecies, it's ridiculous nonsense posing as arbiter of fate rather than scientific analysis or even hypothesis. But there is at least some scientific exposure placed in there, talking to the experts about how this stuff works. Then the editors get involved I guess. I would have imagined that NatGeo would be above such hype-based nonsense to attract attention, from my childhood experiences of reading about far away places and random scientific discoveries by naturalists and astronomers. But one imagines that there's at least somewhat less fact checking necessary to get at the actual material that the show presented in a less than honest and sensible fashion than has been the case with many many historical portrayals of prophetic events. We've seen similar problems with new technology like the LHC as though it's the end of the world. The types of changes exposed by studying things carefully and analytically can be revolutionary, but they're hardly the end of the world. Even the unlocking of the atom hasn't yet ended up as a doomsday scenario, and I was a child in the age when that was still considered a serious possibility (when a comic book like Watchmen can be written about it). That's still a formative memory of how human beings could at any moment decide to destroy each other by the millions. Something stops us. And it isn't some deities or even a deus ex machina plot device of some sort. Sometimes I think it's just better to be a force of creative influence than to destroy. Science doesn't seem to care one way or the other, which is probably a good thing.

20 June 2009

not looking good

suicide squad attack?

It reads like the "craft an assassination attempt to confuse people and galvanize official strength" move out of the dictator playbook. Things have reportedly gotten ugly with riot police everywhere.

weekly wrap

I figured I'd start taking the end of the week point to re-hash the things I listed as shared on here and perhaps add a few points here and there.

gay marriage looks a lot like...marriage

I didn't figure this should shock most rational people. There's still plenty of irrational arguments about the effects of gays upon children or somehow other marriages that will need to be assailed with empirical data at some point. But this is a nice start.

old news

This problem has been around for a lot longer than the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The British never figured out how to deal with active resistance of a non-violent nature in India. We didn't either in the South. If ever there becomes a cause for which people will champion with non-violent resistance that isn't worth dying or fighting for, we're screwed. The only good news is that causes like that don't seem to exist. At some point a Hamas like agency will press for non-violent resistance to the oppressions of Israeli occupations and economic blockades of their people and we'll see just how much more effective that will have been at creating an independent state than all the bombs could ever be. The "fortunate" problem seems to be that there's plenty of people who are fighting for more than just independence and as a result must resort to violence to press for their demands, ie, they want Israel to go away. That's not something that can be protested for and created through non-violent resistance. But pressing for equal rights or equal statehood, sure.

evolution has its pitfalls

I suppose this is a possible explanation for my lack of dating and my generally healthy immune system. More plausible for both is my lack of general or excessive human contact on a daily basis.

nobody knows who this is either

I like reading articles about nobodies who happen to actually be somebody. Especially when they criticize things that I often lean toward. I don't quite think he understood the argument for not licensing doctors (since ol' Milt meant the state not licensing them, not nobody licensing them). But there's not a few things on monetary policy that don't quite make sense in the real world that Milton Friedman was big on to go along side such "libertarian nuttiness". He does have several ideas I'm big on: negative income taxes, abolition of private/public school distinctions through school choice, abolition of state monopolies over things like mail and social security, things of this nature. But when it comes to fiscal and monetary policy, sometimes the crowding effects or inflation arguments get in the way of real and behavioral effects that should not be discounted as valuable in a crisis. It's the non-crisis stuff where that would become strong and meaningful arguments. You know, like the bubbles and inflationary spending over the past decade that created a problem for which one plausible answer was to borrow and spend our way out of. There might even be a good idea to redistribute much of the stimulus check money in there, since a lot of it was probably too long term.

19 June 2009

damn they're slow

kazaa? so 2002

I have some issue with why someone was still using kazaa in 2005 personally. The amount of illegal songs, not so much. But seriously, the RIAA basically announced they were hunting using KaZaa way back in like 2003. And the advantage of the internet and file sharing software was the de-centralized nature. All it really took was a means of distributing software for specific types access to the internet and that's about it. The name on the box, so to speak, was not terribly important. If someone really wanted to pirate music, they were going to find a way to do it and nobody could really expect to be tracking it with reliability. The problem I guess is the sheer laziness of most people.

The truly amazing part is how long such things have taken to resolve. The case itself started in what, 2006/7? And the RIAA has been suing people for almost a decade. Meanwhile, Apple and others went into the digital music market and invented one, one in which they get paid and which seems to conform, at least occasionally, to the demands of consumers. I've heard much less about "downlifting" and online piracy cases since the heady days of the late 90s and the early internet file sharing efforts. Pirate Bay is about the only one I've heard of.

There were lots of complaints about piracy but the truth seems to be more that the industry was slow to catch on and capitalize on new forms of media (not that this was a unique problem of music executives or even of the internet/digital revolutions). They saw such things not as an avenue for more profits (perhaps at lower margins), but as a competition within their own industry somehow. Statistics vary, but it doesn't seem clear that free or even pirated distribution of music has even truly hurt the overall revenues of music providers and producers. Only specific old guard titans have gotten clobbered, making it only worse for themselves by not taking the money from a scorched earth policy of downlifter prosecution and investing it in a digital distribution method of their own.

18 June 2009

Who Wants School Vouchers? Rich Whites and Poor Nonwhites

Who Wants School Vouchers? Rich Whites and Poor Nonwhites

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Not surprising really. The groups of people who would benefit most are generally the very poor, particularly of racial minorities, or heavily religious people. I disagree with the benefits of the second group, mostly because there are plenty of state constitutional restrictions on public funding of religious institutions, including their schools. But if these private and parochial schools were placed on an equal footing with both public and private schools at present, and appropriate considerations for income adjustments could be made (right now this has been politically impossible), I would not care whether people sent their children to a religious school. It's their money. The real issue is the poverty adjustment. There's clear support among the poor for school choice reform, the reason being that the schools they have to send their children to usually are quite terrible. But the actual school choice debate never seems to acknowledge this as a key feature of a market for education nor does it appropriately compensate for the cost of education of lower income students (or the lack of funding to be provided by individual families). In Europe the debates over school reforms nearly always factor this in.

I guess the assumption made here is that poor people would be somehow happy sending their children to an incrementally better public school in this country while rich folk get to keep sending theirs off to a private academy, only with some public funding to make it easier still. Meanwhile it looks like if you were in the middle class, you don't care one way or the other. Probably because on average your children go to a decent school (or at least there is a perception that the school is decent, I'm highly skeptical of such claims when compared to schools around the globe in particular). Classic nimby sort of thinking. If it's not my problem directly, I see no problem for anyone else that needs resolving.

the gentle arts of making enemies

and calling them something else

I especially note the first one.
"Good conversation is an exchange. The most basic form of social ineptitude is to say what's on your mind, even though you have no reason to believe your listeners are interested. Even more cloddish: Saying what's on your mind, even though you know that your listeners are not interested."
Since it is clear that very, very, very, very few people have a good deal of interest in the random things that I do, I accept that most people don't want to hear what's on my mind. And hence don't share this freely. The trick has been finding enough of a breaking in point to interfere or interrupt in the cloddish banality of others with a moderately interesting factoid and then move away from the conversation once it retires to boring things. I think the problem for me is more finding other people who have interesting things to say more than finding my own words too interesting. Maybe those two things are related.

"...strong preference for expressing your own ideas and little interest in the things other people want to talk about - especially social chitchat and small talk". Right. I can only have so many conversations about "how's your day" before they instead become "what's your day". Few people have much interest in the actual how portion of the question.

I do however find some credence in the "acting like a jerk won't get people to listen to you". I see this problem all the time with various experts on scientific matters (or especially w/ economics). Krugman is a notorious asshole in this regard, getting in constant digs of ad hominem attacks on his political adversaries while explaining how stupid they were. But he also just won a Nobel for economics. So it's not like people didn't listen to him anyway at some point. I'm not sure where I come down on the idea of "being friendly/nice" to other people. But it doesn't really seem like it should be a default position given the nature of "other people".

I suppose this conditional problem would change if I actually needed all that much of regular favors or networking effects. Or I understood how to leverage such things in a useful way.

random thought on the non-aesthetic determinants of fashion

There were a few random blog postings and reports on the nature of Islamic decrees on the apparel of women (and the presumptive demands of a younger majority in a country like Iran). Since I myself have no intention of expressing opinions on the aesthetics of high fashion, as in what supposedly looks "good" or "fashionable", I shall confine myself to deliberations over the cultural and individual determinations, the sort of war between the two where individuals actually select what to adorn their bodies with in the company of others.

Firstly, we have a cultural expectation. There are some cognitive advantages to this in that we are able with furtive glances to decide the character, occupation, or some other vital attribute. The difficulty is that such attributes are really only those which another person wishes to share (which could be very confusing on its own if a person decided to appear as a doctor in a moment of medical crisis, but was not actually licensed to practice medicine). Piled upon this problem is the nature of perceptions. We are left to determine what we think another person would think or presume upon looking at our clothing selections (or, in some versions, lack thereof). This is a difficult consideration, if not impossible, given the variations of people, and their various expectations of what we would/should/could/have to wear.

Bound up in all of that messy illogical consideration is a mild to severe gender gap problem. For example, it is possible as a male to generate attention or condemnation on our attire. But it tends to require several deviations more away from some credible norm before such attention is roughly comparable to that created by a woman's choice of attire. As in a particularly nice suit worthy of its own commentary, a Hawaiian shirt at a business meeting, or whatever it is that is considered "flaming homosexual" attire that month. Yet there is such a general requirement of conformity upon male attire that it pretty much all looks the same anyway. The subtle variations between casual and business casual are lost upon me. They draw commentary only where the distinction somehow impunes a person's character with a perception of un-professionalism. This sort of commentary is in fact never made in direct statements of a sort like "go buy better clothes". It's more like "you don't fit in here". By contrast, it seems that with all the attention that is lauded fairly or not upon a woman's attire, she has much greater flexibility on how to actually accede to the cultural norms (at least in a society like this one where she doesn't have to cover her entire body with cloth). There is not a strong repulsion to women wearing men's clothing for professional purposes (though there is of course, some commentary to this effect). But there is a strong repulsion to cross-dressing. I find it difficult to make sense of this, a paradox of sorts. Women have more attention paid to clothing choices, but effectively have more options. Men have no attention but have few options.

I say this issue with "few options" not for the idea that men should seek to wear women's fashion or to adopt the level of scrutiny involved, but really that it seems like it's reasonably harmless manner of self-expression to select YOUR OWN fashionable demands rather than to conform to some strict social norm. For some reason it's more socially acceptable to get a tattoo than to buy a "loud" shirt (whatever that means). Clothing is to me a tremendous pain in the ass. I tend to leave it up to various holidays throughout the year to replenish my wardrobe, without a great deal of thought as to what it is composed of (beyond trying to avoid advertising for anyone or anything). And thus it would seem that the image that would create is illegible or incoherent. It's certainly not one that I feel compelled to put any serious thought into. I'm not sure what expression that conveys to the general public, when I have cause to bump into the public. But the notion that someone else should tell me what I have to wear to satisfy their demands of what I should look like is tremendously repellent.

I have no idea how to square that paradox either. That I should care that much about a problem I don't actually give a damn about. But in terms of something like Islamic hijab, I have some thoughts. It doesn't look like it's actually something that was to be the responsibility of the woman to cover herself by a holy writ, but rather the man to respect her privacy. The fiqhs and hadith on specific clothing requirements came about later. I don't necessarily object to the idea of dressing "modestly". This came up in an article with an Islamic feminist (or something like that), whose consideration was that a khimar was not religiously needed, but that women running around half-naked shouldn't necessarily be the ideal either. I might agree with her point to some extent, in that women doing so when men are dressed formally can be viewed with skepticism. But realistically, the problem is again that men are not respectful, and do not express themselves using clothing (or lack thereof), and so there is a perception of inequality. Women should be free to arrive at a gathering wearing very little, be totally covered, or somewhere in between and have just as little commentary upon these features as any accompanying men would for similar variations.

The ideal state would be where any person is free to craft their attire in the manner they see fit, and that they accede to social circumstances or woeful mis-perceptions of their character only out of politeness, decency, or mutual respect and not out of some required and enforceable notion of what is acceptable dress. To be honest, I'm not really sure what the difference between Iranian or Saudi hajib rules and US fashion magazines are on the surface as both attempt to determine a code of dress and conduct for women (with very limited expressions of appropriate male clothing). The distinction seems to be more the level of social or political repression that is suffered for deviation from that rule and not the actual nature of the rules themselves.

17 June 2009

breaking from iran for a moment

Much as I've been riveted to the blogosphere on Iran, there are a few things happening in American politics. Like this

And Obama also gave a rather nondescript account of health care reforms. Which I've read but haven't had time to consider. By which I might mean: consult with the doctor in the family. I am still more impressed with HAA instead of this at first glance. But the new financial regs, I can look over really quickly and decide on.

1) New regulatory agencies. I'd rather they consolidated the agencies they have already instead of create new bureaucracies. The interconnected or overlapping nature of most financial institutions now means that they should be regulated more based on their actual activities instead of a name plate. As such, you're better off having a few agencies with more agents per building basically. Right now we already have alphabet soup. And to my way of thinking, MORE regulatory agencies for compliance means BIGGER banks. Which looks to me like it was part of the problem. They did at least want to establish a super regulator overseeing the gaps, but we'd also benefit by a consolidation of regulations.

2) Nothing in there about breaking up the superbanks. This will happen in some respects anyway, simply because it hasn't been shown that getting bigger and bigger as a bank really helps the bank itself and the two biggest dogs are both looking like they expanded too fast and have to now sell off parts. But realistically, if a bank, or any company, gets "too big to fail", it's too big to exist. That seems to be part of the nature of the anti-trust regulations that we adopted in the early 20th century, with the idea that a towering corporate structure would get so large that if it had a problem it would paralyze the general economy. This is no less true when the resources that a corporation provides are financial instruments and credit for lending purposes than when its purpose is distributing coal or oil. It's possible you can sidestep this with a bank by having stronger reserve requirements for larger banks, which essentially limits their size anyway by increasing the competitiveness of smaller banks.

3) Consumer Financial Protection Agency. I have mixed feelings on this. Going back to the credit card bill they passed earlier in the year, there were certainly some egregious things that they put a stop to (at least by law), so there's some use in proper regulation and oversight of business practices. And I could agree there's merit in having a consumer watchdog in government, or at least give consumers a seat at the table to lobby alongside everyone else. But the idea does sound an awful lot like NRA from the 1930s, in the sense of attempting to control rates, in this case on mortgages and credit card lending, back then on just about everything else. I'm not sure how it works precisely, one will have to wait for the actual legal text in Congress to see how it plays out. But if it's actually like NRA, this thing should die immediately. We don't need price fixing to resolve the problem.

What we really need is an idea of how much to price some of the worthless stuff still on the bank's balance sheets. If we can do that, they can figure out how much they really have to loan out with greater ease. Somehow this got pushed into the background when it was all along the most pressing issue.


1) Give the federal government power to take over and wind down a large financial company. --- Good, why this wasn't covered by LAT I don't know. It's probably the most important aspect of the regulation.
2) Mandate that large financial institutions raise more capital and meet higher liquidity standards. - And good, second most important.
3) Abolish the Office of Thrift Supervision and create a new national regulator for financial institutions. - Huh... why abolish one just to replace it?
4) Require advisers to hedge funds and other private pools of capital to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. - Transparency over derivatives looks like the target here when combined with later provisions. Good idea.
5) Suggest there be some sort of federal coordination of insurance regulation. - Standardization, things like apples to apples comparisons, would be helpful.. but at the moment, this is done by states. I suppose the interstate commerce clause is useful on occasion.

Still nothing in there about market valuation of toxic assets though.

14 June 2009

Doha is nice this time of year right?

I should probably look into moving to some country that actually has a media. Like Qatar.

Because there isn't anybody in America watching this thing. Maybe they weren't surprised, but this is a country where the Presidential candidates are all vetted by the actual leaders (the Ayatollahs). The election of any one of them shouldn't be a cause of concern. And yet we see an election where the voices of dissent are silenced by shutting down internet and satellite access, cell phone access and text messaging, sending out the shock troops, and arresting the "reformist" leaders. That's a lot more than Iran usually bothers with. Despite the underlying theocratic regime, they've done a good deal to present a legitimate face of democracy beside it. This totally undermines that, and may backfire on the Iranian regime.

For example, they may have been better off letting Mousavi win (or at least make the results look legitimate instead of ridiculous) and having Obama waste time talking to the guy who doesn't actually run the nuclear program while we can't step on the gas to get them to stop because there's a "reformer" in office. We suffered the same problems when Khatami was in office. They'd also have been better off because their economy would have a chance of repair without serious sanctions, which will be coming if Ahmadinejad is charge, and with someone who presented an actual economic agenda instead of blaming Zionists/Israel/Americans for everything. The importance of that is that it mollifies many of the domestic reformers. It doesn't address the women's rights issues or various human rights problems with freedom of speech, religion or press. But keeping domestic rabble-rousers at bay is more important to the Iranian regime than worrying about international opinion. When they have to run about stamping out dissent locally it sort of makes it difficult to appear like a legitimate and influential country internationally (China somehow gets a pass on this, probably because they're not run by the sort of Muslims who attract the real ire of American interventionists).

13 June 2009

news in the form of good cop bad cop


I particularly enjoy the Federalist paper reference "nations, to be more safe, at length become willing to run the risk of being less free". Seeing anyone in the administration that approved illegal and immoral acts in the supposed quest for national security is fine by me.

The bad. I'd been following this for a while and hadn't commented, mostly because my impression was different than the news media with the purported Obama bump going on. It looks more to me like with the general economy in disarray, people around the world are voting by their checkbooks rather than their radical ideological opinions. Americans rejected social conservatives (for the most part), Lebanon rejected Hezbollah, Europe embraced a variety of radicals proposing different solutions to the present crisis than the bulk of incumbents ("far right" isn't quite accurate, but that's what it looks like to Americans), India stayed the course (because they have a pretty good one) and then Iran had "elections".

It looks to me like they rushed out a pre-certified election with a simple blank slate margin. The question is this: is that the actual margin (although it most likely isn't that way all over the country, as their published election results demonstrate), because undoubtedly there is a large contingent of what passes for social conservatives and firebrand foreign policy supporters, just like we have here. And it's something of a question just how populist such ideas are over there. The main points of contact for media and westerners are Iranian intellectuals. Which one could suppose are much like our intellectuals, with a predilection toward democratic processes and some variety of human rights (and more or less opposed to terrorism, violent threats, and holocaust denial). That's not however the bulk of the country, only a significant cross section of it (that we should expect should have carried various districts or regions in an actual election) So of interest over the next couple of days is whether there are widespread demonstrations and possible revolutionary tendencies building up in a nation that was once what passes for a bulwark of democracy in the Middle East (particularly in relation to our allies). Or if it's just a bunch of the educated elite over there that didn't actually have much influence within Iran itself that backed a reformer while the bulk of the country backed the mad man who promised a road to greatness without a map. Sort of like the '04 election here only with an actual candidate opposing the crazy guy.

Best guess, some riots for a few days followed by a restoration to status quo. And we can get some support this way for international sanctions that we wouldn't have had under a basically powerless Mousavi regime.

Update: It looks like the margin was totally faked now. The question remains who might actually have won under an actual national democratic election. But the likelihood of open revolt and riots, given the obviousness of fraud, is much stronger now than my first impression. I still don't believe it will reach a point that the Khamenei theocracy will be toppled, but they will have to do something different than just attempt to suppress their opposition internally given their tendency to at least appear like a legitimate government (rather say DPRK's dictatorship of the Dear Leader).

12 June 2009

I'm with stupid, the poor version

why isn't education the top priority

Looking over data like this, you get a sense of why economists consistently put education at the top of the list of national priorities. It corrects for all sorts of other problems by itself.

You want health care, well under the current system the only reliable way to get it is to have a decent job and employer who gives you health insurance benefits. And to get that, you need a decent education. Obviously we have other problems with health care that aren't addressed this way, but those are longer and more systemic problems than access problems. You say you want energy independence, well education helps there because we'd have a bigger pool of scientists working on alternative energy research. And presumably a population with some association with energy efficiencies and cost savings.

Budget constraints are about the only thing that's not tackled immediately by educational concerns, and they're a problem that has a few decades to resolve and can still be tackled immediately. Even there, a better educated population could have at least a cursory association with delayed gratification or the idea that we should resolve problems as they surface rather than when the entire iceberg pokes up out of the water and into the boat.

10 June 2009

strike two

more terrorism from the right?

I realize that associating wackos from extreme fringe is sometimes disingenuous. But when the fringe/Faux right spent a week complaining about observational concerns within the people who create their "fringe" for violent action, and then we see violent action from that extreme fringe, i suspect we can say something like "told you so". This isn't a phenomenon limited to right-wingers (many of the anti-globalization forces are for example anarchists), but it is a phenomenon we will be seeing more of over the next few years to have some right-wing nut job shooting abortion providers, Jews, Muslims, blacks, Mexicans, or some other group "causing" perceived injustices. Because the people that for some reason oppose these various groups are most casually aligned with "Southern Conservatism" (of the sort that dominated GOP politics over the past decade), and the source of a domestic terrorist's motivations seems most like "the perceived inability to produce action through legal channels". Something that Southern Conservatives presently cannot do without decent spokespeople, a coherent message, and representation in key federal channels. It's something that bugged me about many Ron Paul's acolytes being drawn strongly from these sorts of people, and which more clearly defined his brand of libertarianism as inconsistent with the underlying ideology of a classical liberal. I have no interest in preserving the ability of some to practice social discrimination (individual discrimination is something we all do more or less in our choice of associations, this is different) or to permit the authorities exercising local or state power abuses over individual liberties while denying this to federal (or international) authority. But these people do. And without the perception that they have a voice (however flawed that voice was), they will choose to act.

Good luck getting people to back rational causes of social conservatives (whatever these might be) when your primary "advocates" are armed lunatics on a mission from God.

whoops. i mean...uh

faux pas!

Fox news was creating an alternative reality? I had no idea.

I notice this problem over almost every crucial debate in this country that neither side uses the same set of facts. It isn't merely enough to debate what to do about these, all debates become a war over acceptance of a data set first. When the basic reality that underlies a problem cannot be agreed upon, social gridlock is the inherent result. We see this where abortion is concerned because social conservatives stress the a factual set that includes a beginning of life at a point far before scientists and social liberals have set theirs. We see this with drug controls because social conservatives have a firm belief that any narcotic substance is inherently dangerous and addictive, while doctors tend to describe addiction as an inherent medical problem of a few people (rather inherent to the substance/activity of their choice, be it alcohol, cocaine, or pornography). We see this with civil rights for gays because social conservatives rely on a data set that claims homosexuality is a choice, while many biologists tend to recognize this as a natural "abnormality" that cannot be willed aside with some sort of treatment or faith, similar to the problem that a person does not choose their skin colour, or, for the most part, sex, and that we grant equal rights on these provisions because they have very little to do with a human being's underlying character and potential, why not those of homosexuals? So the idea that a news organization that feeds these alternative realities with reinforcing and non-threatening data sets is popular with a large percentage of the population is hardly a news flash. It can certainly be argued over many issues the validity of a data set or a proposed theory and its implications on policy choices (such as in the arena of economics). And we may certainly find reasons to argue over public policy (and private) decisions regarding our preferences in this manner (health care vs retirement funding for example). I don't think that requires an alternative reality to have healthy and structured debates. There are plenty of peculiar political persuasions based primarily on different preference sets; security versus freedom, tolerance "versus" free speech, and so on, that do not require the use of any alternate facts in order to persuade or disagree. To me, when you have to invent a new set of facts to support your argument, there is a problem with the underlying argument. It may be an entirely justified perspective from your emotional and visceral reaction, but if there are no facts, facts based on rational investigation of a matter, to support a course of action on my part (or that of any shared authorities), I am not moved by your plea. This includes the irrational bleating of many economic "conservatives" over budget deficits, national debt, taxation, regulation, and so on. There are factual arguments and sensible economic theoretical concerns to each of these debates. Make them. Stop using talking points and do some research. It is getting most tedious to have to explain to these conservatives every time that their supposed problems are not new, and that some of the most blatant offenders are their supposed heroes. If they lived in a reality that acknowledged this instead of in a world of unquestioning worship free of doubt, we might get along better, and we'd certainly have something like an actual cohesive opposition party to "big government", instead of a party with no ideas and no alternatives because it apparently lives in an alternate reality.

Until then, enjoy your dose of Limbaugh, Cheney, Rove, and Gingrich. You're not going anywhere with that.

05 June 2009

sun tzuish, war what is it good for.

Since it is a significant military history day tomorrow (yup, D-Day), and since I have occasionally opine on military affairs or strategies, I figured I'd outline some distinctions between the military philosophy of Sun Tzu and the current systemic problems of American geo-political strategy.

1) "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win". America has not often followed this sort of basic dictum. We embroiled ourselves in an un-winnable conflict in Vietnam for example (and contributed to the problem by not committing resources to make that mistake a shorter one which would have less damaged public will against it). We currently are sitting with two major wars in Central Asia (and a third or fourth possibly on the way).

I argued at the time against the Iraq invasion, principally because the strategy was vaguely defined, the victorious terms non-existent, and the rationale poorly laid out (as in, there was no convincing case to do it). But once the war started, there was then the problems of how to conduct it, how to win, if possible. A war with an asymmetric foe is always going to be conducted in asymmetric battles. We call much of this "terrorism". But the reality is that in small sporadic doses, such efforts can call upon the people of a land to resist and oppose an occupying force, particularly if it operates like a traditional army and tries to wage war on symmetrical terms. It will lose if it does this. The dictum of Sun Tzu in part reads never to allow one's enemies to define the terms of an engagement. We managed in Afghanistan (at first) to wage war in this manner. We used firepower and mobility (two things American forces have traditionally been supreme at), and combined these with decent to hard intelligence and conducted a war using quite a bit fewer troops, and those mostly of high quality special operations training. That's more or less how the shooting portion of a war against a numerous but unspecific foe should be fought. The difficulty in Afghanistan was not running the rest of the counter-insurgency playbook (or one could say, not having a counter-insurgency playbook in the first place). Iraq was a different case. The war was conducted on something more like a conventional arms set piece battle at first. Despite any evidence that suggested such a setup was fruitless at best and convincing evidence from Afghanistan that such efforts were unnecessary to defeat another undeveloped nation's organized military forces quickly and efficiently. In both cases, we went into a war without a playbook that defined any victory or proclaimed our ability to achieve one.

2) Torture. I didn't quite beat this one to death. But quite bluntly, I'm not sure how well our policies of torture to seek out information would be carried over. Sun Tzu's primary interest was speaking to the likelihood that a war being conducted would result in a dominion level control/annexation or at least alliance with the conquered state. That's basically what our two wars seem aimed at. A state which resolves itself through inhospitable treatment at the hands of a conquering occupier to resist and object to the advances and requests of that occupier isn't much use to conquer. Or rather, it hasn't actually been conquered in the ancient sense of the term. And torture isn't exactly welcoming treatment of citizens. Even where those citizens live under a pre-existing system that endorses torture, it does not represent an improvement to sidestep the protections created by rule of law. Where this comes up: "Treat the captives well, and care for them. This is called winning a battle and becoming stronger." The idea being that you do not gain allies and additional forces to marshal for future conflicts (even those of diplomacy and ideas) by treating your enemies with disdain and indolence. Mao Zedong, of all people, even endorsed that type of effort in his text on Guerrilla Warfare. When Mao is higher on the sort of moral scale than America for any reason, that suggests we've made an egregious error of judgment.

3) Sun Tzu does endorse the necessity of gathering vital intelligence. But he does this with a specific chapter on espionage. And not through the more protracted battle over conquest and the ancient struggle over "hearts and minds". His primary focus is also not on gathering more information. One can use scouts to do that in a battle. But on preventing the enemy from gathering information through deceptive and unpredictable tactics. Strike where unexpected, that sort of thinking. Back to espionage: "It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used." Based on my understanding, we have far too few Arabic and Islamic scholars in the employ of our national policies to be trying to understand the objectives our enemies through espionage type tactics, much less to explain those objectives plainly to our public to galvanize support for a long and protracted war. Something Sun Tzu explicitly says to avoid starting, long and protracted wars are not good wars. Indeed his counsel suggests that the very best generals would win battles without actually fighting.

4) And of course this one: "Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories." We went into this protracted engagement without a clearly defined sense of who and what we were fighting. As such, that already suggests a 50/50 battle. The problem as I see it: we also did not clearly define what we ourselves were fighting FOR. Who are we? What did we want? What could we do? And how would they fight, and what for? Thousands of questions left to the "soldiers" of both sides to resolve rather than the philosophers and politicians on our side to proclaim. These are questions that we indeed grapple not without difficulty every day in America. A diverse nation with thousands of significant demands of its body politic is inherently difficult to divine out a single articulate goal in any one endeavor. It is likewise a mistake to presume and to act, as we have often done, that our enemies exist on this sort of monolithic and empirical plain where they have properly identified and organized themselves and gathered all plausible supports to their cause over ours. My reading of many Islamist responses to Obama's speech is that they have not done so. There are indeed members of Islamist majorities in some countries that do not condone violent measures and threats against the "infidels". It may be possible over a period of time to parse out the violent extremists from more moderate extremists, and to obtain for them actual goals that still remain within our own international interests (namely: democratic self-rule and some acceptance of general human rights conventions but carried out by Islamic governments instead of the brutal dictatorships we presently support). I saw quite a bit more interest from oppositional forces in Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular that suggest we (America) might be better off dropping support for the Wahabbi hardliners in Saudi Arabia or the 30 year reign of Hosni Mubarak in favor of more democratic strangeness like we saw in Palestine with support for Hamas or the present election season in Iran (which has a secular Constitutional government that sort of obeys some wizard beyond the curtain theocratic regime). I'm not totally sold that this is a great argument for regional or international stability, but it certainly holds somewhat greater consistency as it regards human rights records and our foreign allegiances. And I would suspect getting our own affairs on these matters in order would be of great help. We're not always going to get to talk to wonderful people when we come to want something to progress or to defend that which has already evolved in the world (see: Cold War or Stalinist Russia as an ally during WW2). And that includes the sometimes crazy Islamic populism of our present enemies. Some of those populists only exist out of convenience, and can shift their support to more tolerable levels (within the greater philosophical "consensus" on human rights) in exchange for a greater sense of regional autonomy and stability. Others are fighting "to the death" in what may be characterized as a clash of civilization. We will have to conduct ourselves on our own rules within a good sense of who we are and what we are fighting for, even where that conflict is within the world of ideas instead of that of bombs and bullets. And we will also have to determine what our opponents really want, if only to seek to deny it to them.

When I have a good sense that this has been happening, maybe I'll be more confident when we attack other nations for no apparent reason that we're going to war for a good reason. But the track record of the past decade is not very reassuring.

04 June 2009

hey that might have been a funny commercial

So that's a beer commercial?

02 June 2009

Magically Mystery Hypothesis

Yup. Definitely America

Not that stupid theories are wholly limited to an American convention, but we do have some of the best practitioners. Nimbly denying that evidence defies their ideas, and fails to support even the new and flimsy conventions instead. For example, I'm guessing Chrysler and GM basically used some sort of algorithm to decide which dealers got shut down. If somebody figured out what the basis for that algorithm was, then that's where the actual bias lies (presumably the less movement of product by percentage or raw value, and thus the more local competition, the less likely to stay open a dealer was). But even that might certainly correlate with some totally irrelevant thing, such as donations to Hillary Clinton or people who report being abducted by Martians and probed while they dismembered some cattle together. Or some such.

I often think of stuff like this whenever the history channel does its end of the world week or has a special on Illuminati/Knights Templar/Freemasons/Pyramid numerology. I just don't need to go through the statistical jargon and mental exercises to arrive at the conclusion that it's amusing and pointless conclusions being put forth by these people. The distressing part is the amount of people, including more mainstream media types than the sort that Faux employs, who buy into and purvey such bullshit assessments or distortions of reality to fit their worldview.

private schools are better how exactly...?

check out this list

Permit a moment to read off a few titles

Dante's Divine Comedy
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
Milton's Paradise Lost
Salinger's Catcher in the Rye
Orwell's Animal Farm
Voltaire's Candide
Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Golding's Lord of the Flies
Heller's Catch-22
Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5
Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Out of these, I can recall several that were required reading at some point during high school and all that I read during or around that point if not prior (there were others on his list I've read since [Qu'ran, Dorien Gray, East of Eden] or read and didn't care for). I'm not sure what the issue would be that these could be banned books by a private school. Even for religious reasons.
What exactly was wrong with Milton, Dante and Chaucer for example? What did Catch-22 or Animal Farm have to do with religion at all (at least on an initial reading by an average high schooler). And in both cases, what did they suggest that was really wrong. Are paradoxes something to be overlooked in education now or is a demonstration of the problems of totalitarian statism somehow at odds with the goals of that educational system?

Presuming this was an American school, I think we can see there's not much of a difference in the quality of private versus public schools if this is what we're offering up.

01 June 2009

couple things

let's all stare out at the terrorist

This point was interesting. "....a magazine that advocated the justifiable homicide position". If true, I'm not sure if that's actually protected free speech or not, to advocate violence. Not because I wouldn't argue that it is (annoying as that may be), but because there's some legal confusion.

"1993 shooting of Tiller". I saw a quote yesterday on google that indicated: The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance when we are in the majority." I'd say we can say, given the amount and consistency of threats to his person and business, who came out ahead on these tests. The supposed majority failed in its imposition toward tolerance. There are many who are suggesting now that this lone act does not or should not discredit pro-life movements. I disagree because this isn't a lone act. Violence toward abortion providers has been constant. There are very rational concerns that indicate an individual may not wish to have an abortion, and pro-life advocates should be permitted to lobby, even intensively, to prevent, limit, restrict, or even to ban abortions, and to protest at clinics that perform them. They should not be permitted to do so with violence and they have done so. In addition the rhetoric that has been used seems to foment and encourage violence further (as in the above case with "justifiable homicide").

This therefore does a great deal to discredit the entire movement simply because when a few members are willing to use violence to further their cause, it suggests there's a problem with the underlying movement. As an example, we shouldn't have to impose democratic rule through invasions and violent assaults on other nations, the merits of our cause should sell themselves and we can do what we can to do so further. But to use violence to create democracy? Similarly, when Islamist movements try to (and indeed, have to) use violence to impose sharia law and to suppress opposition, this doesn't bode well for their underlying demands. Despite what I might think of religious intolerance and practices, I have no problem if an individual wishes to use a particular, even a strict, interpretation of personal morals and conscience and impose it upon themselves. There's a big difference imposing such codes upon everyone else. It's a distinction that occurs within Christianist movements just as often, and a principle reason (based on recent studies) that many people have had something of a falling out with organized religions. I think most of us are content to live and let live, and to leave judgments of less serious matters to whatever higher authority we wish or at least, to allow people to learn of their mistakes and to present grievances where they occur to aid in this matter. There should be no quarrel that prevents people from lobbying a particular social construct or point of view. But they should be able to make that appeal without resorting to force and direct harm. There are occasions where this breaks down on the international scale and war breaks out, just as there are occasions where mayhem and murder occur on the individual level. But we must be careful to deny and to work against violent resolutions toward our civic disagreements just as diplomacy must work to resolve international disputes peacefully where possible.

I am not seeing a pre-existing attempt to suppress violence by ardent anti-abortionists within the remains of the pro-life constituency only a post event grief that may have set in with the understanding of the type of terrorist incident that their rhetoric has fomented.

""Freemen" was a term adopted by those who claimed sovereignty from government jurisdiction and operated under their own legal system, which they called common-law courts...." I think this is similar to the idea that Muslims would operate under their own distinct sharia courts in some countries of Europe. But they're still required to follow most civil laws, particular governing interactions with other people. Simply because your particular group condones a particular strain of violent behavior upon others (or each other) does not mean that the harms that it causes are non-existent and should not or cannot be punished by the society at large. And again, if you must resort to violence (in the case of Roeder, he appeared to be doing so with home-made pipe bombs as far back as 1996), then your case is appreciably weakened. Looking over the statements by those who knew him from various radical groups, even they appear to look at this as someone who was a red flag. And yet none of them stepped him aside to question his rhetoric or his penchant for violence to resolve a social discord? Or to publicly speak out against violence for doing so before this action? Not surprising. When people believe their cause is just anything is often seen as furthering the goals.