Hubbub over Haifa Street

Interesting doings over at Belmont Club, where Wretchard has gotten into a shooting war with the Associated Press over the photos of the three Iraqi election officials who were killed on Haifa St, Baghdad. Wretchard noted the oddity that the cameraman was able to witness the event at all, given that he should not have known about it beforehand, and took several steady pictures from a standing position while thirty or so terrorists were firing machine-guns and throwing grenades. He drew no explicit conclusion, leaving that to the excellent community of Comments-denizens: that the cameraman was tipped off by the terrorists, and was furthermore assured of safe conduct during the hit.

So far, so good. This would hardly be the first time something like this has happened. But then sources at the AP chose to respond to Wretchard in print, which only gave him more ammunition.

Silly AP people. You have violated the cardinal rule of public-relations: NEVER let them see you bleed.

Check it out.


Global Warming and Kyoto

The problem of enviromentalism in an industrial world is already tricky enough when we restrict the debate to the realm of fact. The world's transportation, and much of its power generation, is based on the consumption of fossil-fuels. These fuels must be extracted from the earth, which causes a certain amount of damage to the surroundings; more importantly, when they are burned in power plants or automobiles, they produce various waste-products which detract from human health, and perhaps contribute to global climate-change (though this last point is hotly disputed).

Obviously, the world would be much improved if an alternate energy-source such as hydrogen could be put into place, and the private-sector is furiously researching technologies for producing and storing hydrogen. But the technology will come when it comes, and in the meanwhile many enviromentalist groups have arisen calling for sharp cutbacks in the use of fossil-fuels. This must be done, they say, to avert the spectre of "global warming" (never mind that two decades ago, everyone was worried about a new Ice Age).

A major step in this fight against global warming was the creation of the Kyoto Accords, which mandates steep cuts in the production of greenhouse gases, relative to the 1990-level, by the year 2012. In all probability, that time-frame is too short to allow for the significant influence of new technologies—consider the massive effort required to convert every gas station in the world to a hydrogen-pumping station, even if it were feasible today—so the only ways to cut emissions in time are to deploy expensive "scrubbing" equipment, or reduce the use of fossil-fuels.

At this point we must ask the obvious question: is it worth it?

For my premise, I assume that we will transition over to a hydrogen-based economy within thirty years, which is being generous. The hydrogen will be refined using power generated by solar power, fission power, and perhaps even fusion power (there are plans for the construction of an experimental fusion reactor in Japan by 2009). Additionally, solar technology will progress to the point that many homes generate their own power. In other words, greenhouse gases will cease to be a problem.

How much damage can the modern economy do to the world in thirty years? I submit that the answer is negligible. How much damage can the poorly-designed Kyoto Accords do to the people of the world? It depends.

First, it is important to realize that at present, fuel use is proportional to energy use. Hence, as China and India continue industrializing, their use of oil will skyrocket. China is not a signatory to the Kyoto Accords. Therefore, the ability of the Kyoto Accords to really limit greenhouse-gas production is limited at best.

Second, at present oil is the cheapest, most portable and energy-dense form of power that we possess. Until the technology exists to replace it, oil is the only thing allowing the modern world to have easy transportation and manufacturing, which have been the cause of so much good for humanity. Granted that there is significant room for more efficient use of oil, particularly with respect to American cars; but to push this process to the point where it is no longer economical translates into wasted money, that could have otherwise gone towards easing human suffering.

Finally, it is hardly certain that global warming is in fact a problem at all. (As I sit here in New York City, I devoutly wish that the temperature would rise a few degrees.) Atmospheric data collected by NASA have shown time and again that the temperature-changes in the Earth have slowed to a crawl; moreover, the polar ice caps are actually growing. Environmentalists tend to disregard atmospheric data, preferring instead to use surface-data. But such data is tainted by the Heat-Island Effect, which is simply a byproduct of urban crowding and construction. Perhaps this is why this data is preferred by environmentalists…

There are many good reasons to transition away from fossil-fuels, and I will applaud the day when it happens (and if I get access to the capital, I intend to work to bring that day closer). But we cannot allow our analysis of the costs and benefits of fossil-fuels to be skewed by questionable science, no matter how many people believe in it. There was a time when everybody was convinced that the world was flat, in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. In many ways, we have regressed to that time.


Weimar Russia?

Ex-KGB boss Vladimir Putin has spent years quietly eroding the newly-established democratic framework of Russia. Now, it seems he is no longer being quiet about it.

Presently, Russia's governors are chosen by popular election. Under the new law that Putin just got rubberstamped by the feckless Federation Council, all governors will henceforth be appointed by Putin directly, and confirmed by the regional parliaments. Should a parliament refuse to confirm Putin's candidate, it could be dissolved and a "temporary" governor will be set up in its absence.

Equally alarming is a second law that has yet to be voted on, which would end the direct election of national legislatures.

With this stroke, Putin has for all practical purposes ended democracy in Russia. President Bush is tolerating this development for the moment because he has a full plate already; besides, it is difficult to dictate terms to a former superpower with a large nuclear arsenal. But I suspect that Bush is paying very close attention to the recent developments. Condoleeza Rice, incoming Secretary of State and a long-time advisor to the President, has been a specialist in Soviet affairs for all of her academic career, and much of her professional career as well. I have speculated before that Rice's appointment to SecState implies that our policy is going to reorient towards Russia. These latest moves by Putin have me totally convinced. We can no longer afford to assume that Russia will take care of itself.

One could ask, granted that a reemerging dictatorship is not a good thing; but why is it such a huge problem now? After all, Putin shows no inclination of returning to Communism, and is apparently an ally in the War on Terror. So long as we remain on civil terms, can't we just focus on the Middle East and let Russia alone?

Unfortunately, Russia is not as much of an ally as some think. Remember that the Iranian nuclear reactor in Busheir is being built by Russia. In fact, the project began even while Boris Yeltsin was still in power. It is claimed that the reactor is intended for power-generation; this statement is absurd, given that Iran is sitting on massive reserves of oil, and is not especially known for its eco-friendly attitudes. More likely is that the reactor is meant to curb the expansion of American influence in the Middle East.

Russia has not yet come to terms with its declining power. It still hopes to regain its former status as a superpower by building alliances with other nations, particularly in the Middle East. Also vital would be an alliance with China against the United States. Such an alliance is the single greatest danger facing the United States today, terrorism notwithstanding, bcause a Sino-Russian alliance could quite possibly expel the United States from Southeast Asia, leaving exposed the island of Taiwan (among other things). If you don't consider this important, consider that many of the components inside your computer are produced in Taiwan.

Putin's authoritarian plans are incredibly dangerous. If the Russian people cannot secure their own rights and freedoms, then it is imperative that the United States work to prevent an alliance between Russia and China. If we can keep those two seperate (or even, be still my beating heart, hostile to each other!), then it would be difficult for Putin to mount a serious challenge to our interests. Russia today is weaker than the Soviet Union ever was, though that could change as they build up their economy. Of course, Putin's actions are quickly driving away foreign investment.

On the other hand, Putin expended a huge amount of political capital in his ill-fated attempt to rule Ukraine by proxy, through his stooge Yankovitch. If Yuschenko ends up defeating Yankovitch in the new balloting, Putin may never recover. It would be nice, anyway.


Trouble in Venezuela?

Powerline posted a letter from a Venezuelan blogger who claims that the police in Caracas performed a sweep of a Jewish dayschool at 6:30 AM, just as kids were arriving. The blogger, Daniel Duquenal, termed this "our very first anti-semitic incident." Free Republic confirms this with a news report, adding that the state-run television network Venezolana de Television has been claiming for weeks that the Mossad assassinated a state prosecutor, Danilo Anderson. Anderson had been "investigating" 400 people accused of accepting funding from the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy during the election debacle.

Hugo Chavez has spent the last few years turning a once-proud state into a virtual dictatorship. He has instituted a massive military buildup, nationalized many key industries, and become a close partner of Fidel Castro, importing many thousands of Cuban "advisors" to help him in rigging the elections. But a descent into Jew-baiting crosses the final red-line (if any more were necessary). The Jews have always been the bellweather for how moral a society was: if the Jews are treated fairly, then all peoples could expect fair treatment (eventually) because the society is fundamentally inclusive. But the reverse is also true: a society that will abuse its Jews, will abuse anyone they can get away with.

Columbia has accused Chavez of providing support for the many guerrilla forces terrorizing that country, and Chavez has likewise ratcheted up the rhetoric towards Columbia. It has become clear that Chavez is the greatest threat to the stability of South America today; acts of anti-semitism only confirm the danger. Besides, the Venezuelan government has now made this very personal. An attack on one Jew should be seen as an attack on all, and we have a duty to our brethren in Venezuela to help remove this would-be Simon Bolivar from power.

[EDIT: I just heard rumors that Chavez is presently on a state-visit to Iran, where the mullahs erected a statue of him. It would not surprise me one bit. ]


Support Israel: Buy Amazon!

I'm starting a new program with my Amazon ad in the sidebar. I will be donating 2% of all purchases made through the link on my site to charities in Israel.

How can you participate? When you want to shop on Amazon.com, simply start from this site, click on the Amazon ad, and then shop normally. Two percent of every purchase will go to aid worthy causes in Israel; Amazon issues payments quarterly, and I will post how much charity-money I received and where it was sent. This is possibly the easiest way for you to give to charity: you pay zero extra money, and the only effort required is one extra mouseclick.

At present I am considering donating to the JNF, Od Yosef Chai (which distributes food to the needy), and youth centers for cancer patients. Other charities will be considered, funds permitting.

So if you have anything you were planning to buy from Amazon, whether books, or software, or clothes, start from this site and two percent of your purchases will go to worthy causes in Israel. You pay nothing extra. It's that simple.

Please spread the word, and help make this drive a success. Thank you, and happy Chanuka!


Europe, Free-Riding, and the Kantian Peace

Robert Kagan has stirred up a great deal of controversy in recent years for arguing in his book "Of Paradise and Power," that Europe and America have developed fundamentally different worldviews of international relations and the use of force. While America is largely operating in a realist world where force is necessary to preserve security, Europe has entered the world of the Kantian Peace, in which international norms and polite diplomacy determine states' behavior.

Kagan attributes this to two factors. First, the two world wars took place on European soil, and it was mainly to prevent a third war that the European Economic Community was formed, later to become the European Union. Second, Europe has been placed under the American security umbrella, making it unnecessary for European states to maintain large militaries of their own. Thus, Europe no longer has a military option; it must rely on diplomacy, foreign aid, and economic power to achieve its foreign-policy goals. This has shaped their thinking to a great extent.

This divergence of viewpoints has caused significant problems for the United States. Aside from the cost of maintaining the security umbrella, and of cleaning up European messes like in Bosnia and Kosovo when the Europeans are unable to, the United States can no longer expect Europe to support its foreign-policy. A sort of militant pacifism has taken root in Germany especially, but other places in Europe as well, that sees the realist behavior of the United States as an evil as great as that of her enemies.

But Europe's demilitarization is useful to America as well. First, it removes the possibility of yet another European war, particularly in the case of Germany, which would be extremely threatened by any military buildup in surrounding countries. Germany, in turn, is the most powerful economy in Europe and has no natural borders; if she chose to build up a military, Germany may well feel like she could expand at will. Nobody wants to go through all that again.

Second, a disarmed Europe increases American power. If the American military dwarfs that of Europe, the United States will be less constrained in its actions. Some in Europe, particularly the French, seek to build up a European army for the express purpose of balancing the United States, but I doubt they will get anywhere soon. Even during the Cold War, European countries fell chronically short of their military obligations under the NATO alliance. Moreover, the whole continent is struggling under the weight of their social programs, which are putting them deep into debt. A rebuilt military is out of the question, at least for the moment.

But that does not address Old Europe's increasingly-strong pacifism and lack of backbone. This should be worrying to all of us. Consider the difference between our response to the World Trade Center attack, and the Spanish response to the Madrid train-bombing. Our attitude went from complacency to a thirst for vengeance; the Spanish, on the other hand, responded by retracting their foreign involvements. Granted, the situation was different in a few ways, but there was no sense of national anger and resolve such as was found in America. The Spanish government persists in viewing the attack as a criminal act, not as an act of war.

If this corrosive pacifism will not be counteracted by the governments, it is up to the individual citizens of Old Europe to rediscover their will to survive. Much of the problem can also be found on the micro level, and is created by government regulation: in Britain, as is often reported in Samizdata, citizens are forbidden to defend themselves against armed robbery or burglary, and most firearms are likewise forbidden. Naturally, violent crime is skyrocketing, as the criminals are given free rein. Similar situations are found in much of Old Europe.

I believe the best way for Europeans to rediscover their courage would be if the governments lifted their restrictions on the ownership and use of firearms. It would do much to reverse the culture of powerlessness and fear, and accustom citizens to the use of force to defend against evil and threats to life and liberty. This new attitude would perhaps spill over into the national arena as well, giving European leaders a badly-needed jolt of fortitude.

Sadly, the governments like their citizens to be disarmed and quiescent. The official hostility to firearms use will likely persist for a long time, and with it, the unfortunate brand of European delusion and pacifism.


The United Nations: Graft 101

An fascinating blog, "The Diplomad" (so called because its posters are current and former diplomats with the State Department), has posted an excellent article on the U.N. which dovetails nicely with the news coming out about the Oil-for-Bureaucrats scandal.

Also note the discussion taking place in the Comments section.

One idea raised in class recently, which I think has a lot of merit, is that we should attempt to set up parallel and competing international organizations, that would give nations an alternative to the increasingly sclerotic and corrupt U.N. (In particular, I believe that one of these organizations should be made up solely of liberal democracies.) The basic argument is that the United States and other nations benefit if they have a number of channels of communication, so that they could choose the most advantageous method for any given need. To lump everything together under one roof leads to bloat.

The other issue is that the U.N. presents, in theory, the danger of a true world government. (I doubt they could achieve it in practice, because the U.N. has shown itself to be breathtakingly incompetent for all of its history.) A world government would have its power completely unchecked, leading inexorably to tyranny, especially if it is begun from such flawed material as the U.N. By creating multiple parallel organizations, this threat is mitigated.

The first step, of course, is to recognize that the United Nations is truly an evil. Many people still base their views of the U.N. on its professed mission to bring about world peace and alleviate human suffering. Such goals are laudible; but we must see clearly that the U.N. is not actually working to accomplish them, and has not been for some time. It has instead become a mechanism for autocracies and illiberal democracies to gain access to world legitimacy, international (largely American) money, and a club with which to strike America.

America founded the U.N. in large part to make the rest of the world comfortable with its hegemony, by artificially constraining American power under the rules of the U.N. Charter. Now other member-nations hostile to the U.S. have been exploiting the U.N. in order to tie down the American giant with chains of paper. This in itself makes many question why we should remain a member ourselves. But for this to be compounded with such naked greed, corruption, and callous disregard for the people who need U.N. support (such as the people of Iraq during the Oil-for-Food program) is an abomination.

It is in the interest of the world to construct many, many international organizations which can compete directly with this sinkhole of evil, so that the U.N. will either be forced to reform itself or die a miserable, and richly-deserved, death.


The Palestinian Authority: Endgame

Those of us observing the aftermath of Arafat's passing got our first taste of what is to come when Mahmoud Abbas, acting head of the Palestinian Authority, was nearly assassinated while he and Muhammad Dahlan were visiting Arafat's mourning-tent. Two bodyguards were killed and several mourners wounded. The attackers were apparently from the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades (recently renamed the Arafat Martyrs Brigades).

Abbas had announced plans for an election to be held on January 9. That date will mark a fundamental breakdown in the Palestinian government, no matter what happens, for the simple reason that any free and fair election will almost certainly be won by Hamas, the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas has a great deal of popular support in the PA, and is hostile to the PLO and utterly opposed to Israel's existence.

Abbas is tremendously unpopular even among the PLO. He is tagged as an American lapdog, and is rumored to have poisoned Arafat himself. Even before the election he faces the opposition of several prominent PLO members, notably Farouk Kaddoumi, who publicly rejected the Oslo Accords and remained outside of the Territories in protest. Assuming Abbas stays alive and in power long enough to reach the January 9 elections, he is faced with several bad options if Hamas looks like it will win:

1. Accept the outcome of the elections and transfer power peacefully.

Given past history, the chances of this happening are nil. Not only does Abbas want power, but if Hamas ever does take over the leadership Israel will be forced to crush the PA once and for all. Israel cannot afford to let Hamas, who didn't even go through the charade of negotiations as did the PLO, gain international legitimacy in any way.

2. Declare Hamas an invalid participant in the elections.

Political (and literal) suicide.

3. Declare a state of emergency and pospone the elections for trumped-up reasons.

Almost as bad as option 2.

The most likely scenario is that we will see a rash of assassinations of leaders on all sides; I doubt Abbas will live long, and eventually things will settle down with a strong dictator taking power. That's the "best-case" scenario. The other thing we could see is all-out civil war between Hamas and the PLO, with street battles and casualties in the thousands. That's assuming that Iran doesn't begin thinking that it could take control, and bringing their proxy Hizbullah into the mix.

What can America and Israel do about it? Not much. The man they would prefer to see in power, Abbas, is a condemned man. I believe the most prudent course of action would be to stay out of the way and hope the fighting ends quickly.


Red vs. Blue

I don't usually do this, but this post on Orthodox & Heterodox is a wonderful picture of how conservative America views the various hypocrasies of liberal America. (Yes, I know that conservative America has its own hypocrasies. But unless you point me to an equally funny piece on that topic, you're out of luck.)

[Edit: broken link repaired.]


Free Speech

Yesterday, my college had the honor of hosting Salman Rushdie, who held a private Q&A session with a small number of students and faculty (myself among them), before giving a public lecture. It was utterly fascinating in many respects; I will restrict this post to one issue in particular that he brought up.

In the public lecture, Mr. Rushdie said that the defense of free speech is most important when it is speech that disgusts you. He then related the story of a movie which was made after Khomeini had issued the fatwa against him. This movie, called International Guerrillas or something similar, told the story of a group of "guerrillas" (i.e. terrorists) who were determined to hunt down Mr. Rushdie and kill him. Rushdie was portrayed as living a debauched life in a palace in the Philippines, protected by the Israeli secret services. After several acts of cruelty against the guerrillas (not least, reading to them from the Satanic Verses), Rushdie is finally struck down by Allah himself, and thus justice is served.

A copy of this movie was brought over to Britain, and was submitted for certification. The certifying board was advised by their lawyers that this film was inflammatory, and that if Rushdie was attacked as a result of it, he could sue the board. They therefore were set to declare the film banned. Rushdie was placed in the unusual situation of protesting on behalf of a movie that advocated his murder, to ensure that it would stand or fall on its own merits, and not become a "hot item" simply because of the public opposition. (Cf. The Passion.) In the end, the movie opened to empty houses even in the predominantly Muslim areas, because it was a lousy movie.

I found this interesting most of all in light of a comment he had made in the private session about quiesence in the face of extremism. Speaking of the many protests in Britain where public figures called for his murder, Rushdie said with some agitation, "Not one of them was ever arrested."

Apparently, if you make a public statement calling for the death of another, you should be arrested. But if you make a work of art (or something approximating art) calling for the death of another, that art is legitimate and should be allowed.

I am not sure how to respond to this. One could argue this position on practical grounds, i.e. that a banned movie becomes much more powerful because it can remain underground, while public speech is in any event public speech. But I wonder how much of this comes from a poorly-justified elevation of "art" over simple speech. Conceptually, there is very little difference between the two, as far as incitement to murder goes. As an aspiring writer, I can understand why artists and intellectuals would want to secure a special status for their work. But I am skeptical that such a status should automatically exempt art from the "crowded theater" rule.

But I remain undecided on this point.

In other news, David Carr of Samizdata reports in his incomparable style:

Reports from Paris indicate that there has been a marked improvement in the condition of Yasser Arafat.

He's dead.


Small Arms Balance

The United States armed forces are getting to use their new capabilities to the fullest in the Falluja assault. Networked units, night-vision capability, close air and artillery support are flattening the irregular forces who have no good way to defend against the punishing firepower.

US troops are much safer now as well, thanks to the next generation of Kevlar and ceramic technology found in the new Interceptor Vests, the first body armor capable of stopping a 7.62mm round (used by the AK-47, AK-74, and many types of heavy machine guns favored by guerrilla and terror groups because they are cheap and plentiful).

A friend of mine noted that the present trend in military weapons manufacturing is to develop rounds with less and less power. He theorized that this was to ensure that the advantage stays with the side with the body armor, which is prohibitively expensive for guerrilla-type organizations. (The Interceptor costs over a thousand dollars, while the AK-47 can be bought in some areas of Iraq for less than a hundred.) At the moment, there are some rounds that can still penetrate body armor. These include hunting rounds like the 30-.06, and the .50 Barrett round; but both of these are expensive, and neither of them can produce fully-automatic fire, a necessity against a regular army.

In short, the irregular enemies of the modern army are overwhelmingly outgunned, and are much less capable of injuring their target.

How do they adjust? When possible, they attack easier targets such as the Iraqi police or National Guard, who are not as well equipped as American forces. This is a temporary situation, however, and in any event it does not prevent American troops from counterattacking. Irregulars also rely heavily on roadside bombs and other types of explosives, but the roads are coming under increasing surveillance, making it harder to plant the bombs safely. Moreover, the same advanced Kevlar is now armoring American Humvees and other vehicles, reducing the bombs' effectiveness.

It seems that the weapons-balance has returned to the days of the armored knight, pre-longbow. The army with the greatest budget and support structure is unstoppable.

Of course, nothing will stop the enemy from developing their own capabilities. Hizbullah apparently has developed an unmanned aerial drone, which flew over the Lebanese border a few days ago…

[UPDATE: I have been informed that there are indeed 30-06 and .50 rifles capable of automatic fire. But they remain much less common than the AK family of assault-rifles.]


Party hack?

I had a fascinating conversation with a friend of mine from Boston today, this friend being one of the few liberals at my college. (The majority of the students here are conservative, though not Republican; in a voter registration drive held recently, over 95% of the new voters registered independent.) The content of the conversation itself was boring enough, rehashing talking-points about the election. What was fascinating was a comment he made at the end of the discussion, after I said that nationalized health-care would be terrible for the country.

He said, "I hate talking politics with party hacks."

Now, I appreciate the general sentiment, having felt that way myself often enough. But I had told him at least three times in the previous hour or so that I am an independent. He still identified me as a "party hack," presumably for the Republican party. As I understand it, a party hack is loyal to his party above all, regardless of the ideology that the party should be advancing at the time. He will defend policies that he knows to be flawed, simply because they are proposed by his party.

I was almost immediately reminded of a story my father often tells. I no longer remember if the story happened to him, or to a friend of his, but in either event it is instructive. The subject was having a political conversation of some sort with a friend of his, who was considerably more liberal. He was making some point in opposition to the liberal program. The friend grew agitated and said, "You don't really believe that!"

My father took from this the following insight: a liberal believes that his worldview is completely self-evident, and that all people really know deep down that the liberal agenda is the right thing to do. Therefore, nobody can honestly oppose liberalism out of principle, since liberalism is right. Therefore, anyone who opposes liberalism must be doing so selfishly or dishonestly. It is impossible to legitimately hold a philosophical viewpoint opposed to liberalism, and to advocate action based on this philosophy, because such a philosophy is manifestly wrong.

Examples: the Laffer Curve is a fabrication to excuse Tax-Cuts for the Rich™; opposition to Affirmative Action makes you a racist; et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

Therefore, for me to be advocating ideas opposed to liberalism to my liberal friend, I was by definition doing so not because I thought they were right, but because I was a "party hack."

This attitude is disturbing. I, and most conservatives, can readily accept that most liberals genuinely believe in the validity and righteousness of their views. This allows us to acknowledge that even if their methods are flawed, their hearts are in the right place, and they are generally good people in their way. But if the converse is not true—if the average liberal believes that anyone disagreeing with him is doing so from base motives—then it justifies extreme actions taken against the opposition. Stealing political signs and barricading campaign headquarters, and perhaps worse, are justified because the actions impede the advance of a dishonest agenda.

I am not a party hack. I genuinely believe that capitalism is preferable to government control, that personal responsibility is better in general than dependence on others and the growth of moral hazard, and that people exist in the world who need to be killed for the benefit of all. I do not tie these beliefs to a party platform. Republicans are just as capable of being scum as anyone else; consider Bush the Elder, who incited the Iraqi Shia and Kurds to rebellion and then hung them out to dry, to be slaughtered by Saddam. But Bush the Younger, for all his numerous flaws, has got the essentials right as far as I am concerned. And I honestly believe that too.



With my workload picking up, I have not been able to devote the time necessary to keep this blog up to date. Moreover, I have spent a great deal of time looking at other blogs, detracting from my work. So I'm taking a break, probably for the next month or two. I may end up posting anyway if a subject is of burning interest, so please check back every so often if you like.

I shall use this opportunity to pontificate on matters near to my heart. Take these commands as worth the price of admission:

1. Self-reliance. Learn First Aid and CPR. Know how to cook. Keep disaster-preparedness supplies in your home, especially if you live in earthquake or hurricane country. Do not rely on the availability of fresh water, electricity, or plentiful supplies of gasoline. Ask yourself the following: if basic services were all shut down for a week, would you be able to take care of yourself and your family?

2. Financial Prudence. As Einstein said, the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest. If you have savings, this works for you in a big way. Start early. The biggest edge you can get in the savings game is by starting early. If you sock away a little money in Treasury bonds every year from age 25, you will be well ahead of someone who starts investing in nanotech stocks at age 40. But if you are in debt, compound interest works against you. Pay down your credit cards! You are effectively getting a guaranteed return of 12% or more, which is pretty good by any standard. Pay down your other debt too, if you have the free capital—assuming that it doesn't make more sense to invest the money.

3. Charity. Charity is one of the best investments you can make. You are investing in other people's lives, your own soul, and your continued moral refinement. Plus, you can be assured that all the money you give will find its way back to you in the end, only more so.

4. Resolve. Like it or not, we are in the middle stages of a conflict which began generations ago and will last generations more. (Read John Loftus's article on the Muslim Brotherhood for a full account of the Nazi origins of al-Qa'ida.) We cannot allow our innate feelings of mercy to weaken our determination or cloud our judgement. The murder of innocents for political gain must be ended by the systematic annihilation of all who would do such a thing. I am sick of sharing the Earth with these vampires.

And to those who believe that "violence begets violence," and would therefore abstain from this war: to say that we cannot take arms against murderers is to strip human life of its value. It is to say that the evil powers of the world can have their way with the rest of us, killing whoever they wish, because we will not resist. Not this Jew. Not now. The millions who perished in the Holocaust for want of a few brave souls willing to do violence, and the millions who were saved from death because prisoners rose up and destroyed Treblinka and Sobibor, stand before me in my heart and cry warning against submission. A moral nation must only kill others when there can be no other way, but when that moment comes we CANNOT do anything besides bloodying our hands in hopes of saving more than we destroy.

Stay well, and may God bless you in all of your handiwork.


Election Turmoil

In Afghanistan, millions of people voted for the first time in defiance of threats from the Taliban (which turned out to be relatively toothless). But it seems that people closer to home are not taking this to heart. Some Americans apparently believe that violence against your political enemies will yield dividends for your cause. Or else, they have stopped caring anymore.

In several cases, Republican campaign offices have been shot at. Others were broken into, with only the computers containing voter data being stolen. Reports of vandalized Bush signs or cars bearing Bush bumper-stickers are numerous. (Kerry signs have also been vandalized, but in far fewer numbers.) These cases, though unprecedented in my living memory, could perhaps be dismissed as the acts of individuals. More troubling are the cases of AFL-CIO thugs attacking Republican campaign offices, with the support and approval of the national organization.

Here we have a dangerous development. A high-profile national organization has carried out acts of violence against a political party espousing differing views. Moreover, the acts are praised and held up as exampes of "voter advocacy." In some of the more noxious corners of the Internet, such as Democratic Underground (I will not link to them out of principle), people post of plans for violent outbreaks should Bush win reelection. We are beginning to see the lawless wing of the Left emerge in all of its rancid glory.

It is telling that despite all of the caterwauling about "right-wing gun nuts," not a single Democratic campaign office has been shot at. Nor have Democratic offices been mobbed by violent crowds sent by the Christian Coalition/Karl Rove/the Evil Neocons. You know things are getting lopsided when even the New York Times attributes the most vileness to the Left.

I wonder at the Democratic Party's wisdom in letting slip the dogs of war in this fashion. I don't see how they expect to convince the American people that they are the best party to run the country this way. Besides, the extremists had better hope that they don't provoke a reaction from the Right. They are, after all, heavily outgunned...


The Modern "Debate"

Having just watched the Vice-Presidential Debate this evening, my thoughts naturally turn to the merits and flaws of the debate structure presently favored in America. I should say that tonight's debate was unusually good in that it largely turned on real policy differences, and every time Edwards tried to bring up Haliburton, Cheney's voting record from decades ago, and other irrelevancies, he was properly smacked down for it. But the debate still suffered from the usual systemic flaws.

Back in the Good Old Days™ (say, Lincoln-Douglas), debates lasted several hours. The cadidates had the time to lay out comprehensive, structured arguments on their policies and those of their opponents. Statements would often be longer than two hours, as would be the rebuttals. This was all to the good, as we are in theory electing officials to construct policy.

Tonight, the longest either candidate was allowed to speak was two minutes. (Though there were a few blatant violations which the moderator did not interrupt.) Rebuttals were ninety seconds, then thirty seconds. Questions were not known in advance, requiring answers to be entirely off-the-cuff, or else stock answers that had little relevance to the question.

Now I have a little exercise for the reader. Take a stopwatch, set it to two minutes, and within that time do an oral presentation to a friend on why we [should/should not] be in Iraq. You may repeat this exercise for any major policy issue such as Social Security reform, taxes or the lack of same, or why every citizen should own an M1-A Abrams tank. You will quickly find that two minutes is insufficient for presenting anything more than key phrases, broad generalizations, and the bare outlines of any complex topic.

The conventional logic is that the modern debate is intended not to be about policy, but about the candidates. The viewers can see how the candidates react to unscripted situations, and develop a "feel" for who the candidate really is. This logic is partly undermined by artificial debate formats, for example in the first presidential debate where the candidates could not rebut each other. But let us take the argument at face-value.

What skills are being tested by the present format?

1. Proper speaking method and style.
2. Memorization of talking points and key phrases.
3. Rapidly formulating new arguments in response to the question or the opponent's statement.
4. Mastery of the cutting remark.
5. Quick thinking, wit, and self-control.

While these can be valuable to an elected official, it is less important to think quickly than it is to think deeply. Truly deep thinkers pause when they are thinking. They need to examine the subject carefully before formulating a response to it. Deep thought is penalized by the two-minute format in favor of glib speech (which will not always be backed up by coherent thought). More than that, the skills listed above are largely superficial, having little bearing on questions of policy. Modern debates are testing the wrong skills; they should be testing the ability to explain and defend an agenda.

The simplest thing to do would be to allow more time for statements, so that real policy matters can be discussed. Ten minutes per segment would be nice; most college courses on speechmaking, including the one I took, require the student to give a detailed presentation with citations in ten minutes. This simple rule change would get us away from the usual fluff and back on the solid ground of the things that really matter.

For that reason, I think the two-minute segment isn't going away soon. Both parties are pursuing miserable policies and try desperately to divert the attention of the electorate from the long-term trend. Neither side wants to face unpleasant truths such as the looming implosion of Medicare and Social Security, or the failure of the War on Drugs, or the ease with which enemies could circumvent security at the U.S. border or elsewhere. "Policy bad, sound-bite good" seems to be the order of the day.


Oil for Graft Program

The news from the Times of London is not especially shocking, except for the sheer scale of corruption in the Oil for Food Program that it reveals. Benon Seven, director of the program, received almost a million dollars from sales of Iraqi oil contracts, provided to him by Saddam at cut-rate prices. A French oil firm linked to Jacques Chirac bribed U.N. inspectors to forge documents. Members of Vladimir Putin's staff were also on the take. Et cetera.

Two thoughts:

1. Well, this explains a lot! I can only imagine how terrified the corrupt officials throughout the U.N. and Europe were that their venal ways would come to light after Saddam's overthrow. I hope that the rule of law will now prevail, and these crawling toads will be thrown out of office (and perhaps in jail?). Of all the crimes that are commited by government officials, accepting bribes is possibly the worst.

2. No leader of a free nation should submit his country's safety to the demands of these clowns. I am in favor of an organization like the United Nations in principle, but episodes such as this prove that the present organization must either clean up its act or be dismantled like any other organization of lawbreakers. This is also a warning against forming a "global government" in which the states would give up sovereignty. Immanuel Kant, in his essay "Perpetual Peace," advocated a federation of independent states, and warned that a true world government would become a "soulless despotism." There is no way to check the power of a world government, which will inevitably encroach on its citizens until it becomes a true tyranny.

In other news...

This essay by Radek Sikorski provides some needed perspective on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. My favorite quote:

Tens of thousands of people died in this country every month in the 1980s during the war with the Soviet Union and it wasn't news. Hundreds died every month in the 1990s from mines and the civil war and that wasn't really news either. Today, casualties are in the dozens most months, and suddenly it is news, taken by some as evidence of imminent collapse. For the first time in a quarter century, more Afghans are now dying in car accidents than in politically motivated violence--a miracle, even allowing for atrocious Afghan driving.

Read the rest, it's quite good.


Iran: the board is set, the pieces are moving

Iran appears dead-set on constructing a nuclear weapon. The agreement to suspend uranium enrichment has been broken off, and Iranian officials are stonewalling the international community in classic Middle-East fashion. They claim that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes, and therefore the world has no right to interfere. The absurdity of that claim is obvious when one considers that Iran is sitting on huge oil reserves, which would be far cheaper and easier to use for electricity than nuclear power. One need only recall the December 13, 2001 speech by former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in which he said:

"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world…. Jews shall expect to be once again scattered and wandering around the globe the day when this appendix [i.e. Israel] is extracted from the region and the Muslim world." (www.iran-press-service.com)

So much for Iranian intentions. The United States and especially Israel have no intention of letting this come to pass. At the moment the United States is in a poor position to deal with the threat directly; not only would they have serious political and diplomatic fallout to deal with, but they do not appear to have the necessary troops free. This leaves Israel, which already has one destroyed nuke program to its credit (the Osirak project in Iraq). Israel has stated that it intends to destroy Iran's reactors, to which Iran reacted by threatening a "very strong" response.

There are three possible avenues for a response that I can see. First, a direct attack via the latest version of the Shahab medium-range missile. Second, a series of coordinated terror attacks in Israel by Hizb'Allah, Iran's proxy. Third, Hizb'Allah launching the 15,000-plus rockets in place on the Lebanese frontier (delivered by Iran) toward Tel-Aviv.

Israel and the United States appear to be dealing with each of these threats. To defend against rocket or missile attack Israel has the jointly-developed Arrow-3, derived from the Patriot missile. The United States and Israel are also cooperating on a ground-based laser system designed to destroy rockets and mortar shells, currently being tested at White Sands, NM. This would likely be deployed behind the Lebanese border against Hizb'Allah weapons.

The United States and Germany have also called for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, and secured a UN resolution to that effect. (Break out the champagne, the UN did something right for once!) Syria seems to be flinching, and has withdrawn 3,000 troops as of this writing, leaving 15,000 to go. A Syrian withdrawal, laudable on its own, would also serve to weaken Hizb'Allah by removing some of its "institutional" protection, easing the way for the inevitable Israeli air strikes on the rocket positions.

Israel is also striking hard against Hizb'Allah cells in Israel and the Territories. Many of the recent assassinations have targeted Hamas terrorists linked to Hizb'Allah, in an attempt to disrupt cooperation between the two groups. (Cf. www.debka.com) Several Hizb'Allah agents in Israel proper have also been arrested in recent weeks. It remains to be seen how effectively Israel can shut down Hizb'Allah's terror operations.

Israeli intelligence is doubtless working overtime to find all of the Iranian nuclear installations. Israel just purchased 500 bunker-buster munitions from the United States, which seem earmarked for Iran. And the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been working for over three years to try to extend the range of Israel's planes to bring all of Iran in range, without refueling. As we begin moving into the endgame, questions remain. First: Will the MTHEL laser system be ready in time for the fireworks in the north? Second: will the Mossad find all of the critical nuclear sites? Third: Will Syria stand aside and let Hizb'Allah be crippled? Fourth: will the IAF be capable of the mission?

Whether you are a partisan of Israel, Iran, or neither, pray that Israel can succeed with its bombing mission. If not, Israel may well decide to fire its own nuclear weapons rather than allow its existence to be subject to the whim of Iran.


Citizen's Militias

Today's polisci classes were interesting. Among other things, we discussed the Offensive-Defensive Arms Balance component of defensive neorealist theory. Jargon aside, the basic idea is that a given weapon system is has an inherent value for defense and a value for offense. Minefields, for example, are almost completely defensive. Tanks, though capable of both offense and defense, generally are intended for offense; in WWI, the tank was the weapon that cracked Germany's trench-network.

Two theories are proposed. First, that the state of technology will favor either defense or offense. (At the beginning of WWI, trench warfare and the machine-gun made offensives bloody and generally futile. By WWII, warfighting technology had shifted far enough to the offense to permit the success of the German Blitzkrieg, and later the D-Day landing, in the face of every conventional defense available. Today the balance is even more towards the offense, I believe.) If the balance is toward defense, so goes the theory, states will find it too costly to go to war and will generally tend toward peace. If the balance is toward offense, no state will dare risk falling victim to a surprise attack, and will have an incentive to attack first, thus tending toward war. (The theory failed disastrously in WWI and before WWII because Europe's leadership didn't take the new technology into account, except for Nazi Germany.)

The second theory, which I think is more interesting practically, is that states send signals with their armaments. If a state has a military that is primarily defensive, surrounding states will understand that the first state does not mean to attack them. They will thus refrain from needless arms buildups which may increase the chance of war. Conversely, states with an offensive military will tip off their neighbors to prepare for war.

In essence: All else being equal, the presence of purely defensive weapons will influence a region towards peace.

Which brings me to the citizen's militia.

I believe in the benefits of private ownership of weapons. It acts as a check on tyranny, inspires self-reliance, and makes violent crime much more dangerous and less attractive. Many have argued that in an age of standing armies, private gun ownership is superfluous. (Never mind that standing armies tend to produce tyrannies...) But defensive neorealist theory would indicate that it is to the benefit of the state to have an armed populace, since citizen's militias are relatively cheap and easy to set up and are entirely defensive in character. They create a powerful deterrant to invasion, and thus allow the conventional military to be kept small and non-threatening. (Consider the case of Switzerland, where every household has a SIG Sauer assault-rifle.)

It is in the interest of world peace that I argue that every state should arm all of their citizens. It would also restrain corrupt governments quite effectively; unfortunately, we will see very few militias for that very reason.

If you want to get worried, think about the criminalization in the U.S. of private militia groups.


Workshopping in Creative Writing class

I'm in two creative writing classes this semester, so I've been doing quite a bit of writing so far. A few of my smaller pieces were presented in Screenwriting, but tonight the Fiction class got a look at the first written chapter of my "baby". It was a really good session. Some weaknesses were identified, and much good advice was given, and I think the piece stood up well overall. Once I sit down and rework it, it's going to get much stronger. I'm in a good mood!

Why must the Israeli labor unions strike every two weeks? Bunch of socialist sponges who are scared out of their wits by Bibi Netanyahu's recognizing that Israel's economy needs to become more open, or else the country will pull a Europe. The unions don't want an open economy, they want to stick it to everyone else in the country.

This could only happen to us. We finally get our home back, and it's founded by socialist statist loons. (Meaning no disrespect to Ben Gurion, just to his political party and everyone to his Left.)


Where teachers send their children...

The Drudge Report is carrying an article saying that 25% of Washington D.C. public school teachers send their children to private school. This is utterly unsurprising to me. If I remember correctly, D.C. public schools pay the highest and score the lowest in the country. Any sane parent would run in the opposite direction.

The problem, of course, is that the public school system is a government-subsidized monopoly, and works about as well as any other government-subsidized monopoly. You aren't even allowed to go to a public school outside of your district in most cases. If there is a single public school in the district, it has absolutely no incentive to do any better than the bare minimum. Moreover, the public school system is the favorite breeding-ground of the worst kinds of historical revisionism, absurd teaching philosophies with flashy booklets and powerful patrons, lowest common denominator teaching, and general incompetence.

Please note, there are quite a few excellent public schools out there. They should all be commended for struggling so mightily against the overwhelming tide of idiocy coming from the system. But they are exceptions to the rule.

More ominous, many people are reporting that the history books distributed by public schools place the Constitution in the appendices, devote more time to the Japanese-American internment in WWII than to the war itself, and do their best to promulgate very specific ideological frameworks which are more appropriate to Sweden than to America. As Orwell put it, "He who controls the past, controls the future…"

Send your kids to private schools. If you can, homeschool them. Count your lucky stars if you actually can take advantage of a decent public school, but even then watch over your children's education constantly. The bottom line is that the public school system, once the secret to our success, will end up destroying America… if we let it.


Ominous doings in Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post, the IDF is changing the name of the operation to pull the settlers out from Gaza. The original name, chosen randomly by a computer, was "Zohar ha-rakia," "glory of the firmament," and is a line from a prayer for the souls of the dead. Not a good sign, given all of the tensions that the pullout is causing in Israel.

Tommy Lapid, the leader of the militantly secularist Shinui Party, is agitating against the "Judaism for everyone" government project, in which seminars on general Jewish knowledge are held after Yom Kippur prayer services in 195 locations across the country. He's comparing it to proselytizing and missionizing. This is yet another example of the struggle between those who see Israel as a "Jewish State" and those who see it as a "State of Jews." The truth is that in twenty years or so, the secularists are going to be swamped by the religious Jews anyway because of the difference in birth-rates. Secular Jews have fewer than two children per couple, while religious Jews have more than five. Some communities average more than ten children per couple. It's only a matter of time.

Of course, the Arab population growth is higher than the total Jewish growth, at least for the moment…

New recommended reading

A few notes. First, I have actually only read "Man's Search for Meaning," which was excellent; but Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem" is a classic, and an account by Dennis Ross of the so-called peace talks has got to be interesting. I hope to read both eventually, but first I've got to get through a stack of books that is several feet tall.

On a slightly unrelated note: WHY are some Harry Potter fans obsessed with predicting the new DADA professor?! On the fan sites people are speculating on everyone from Tonks to Lupin to Snape. News Flash: if Rowling holds to form, the professor will be an entirely new character. Live with it!

Gaah. It's not very fun to wait for the next book in a long series, especially if you've got three series to wait for… On the bright side, Rowling is doing a much better job than the other two authors of keeping the fans happy while they wait.

Rumsfeld was right!

(I knew that would wake people up… By the way, I just noticed and removed the restrictions on comments. Now anyone can comment on my posts, though I will restrict it again if people start spamming the blog.)

In the buildup to the war, the "military experts" were united in their criticism of Rumsfeld for supposedly deploying too few soldiers to the Iraqi front. Our forces were doomed, said the naysayers, because less than 150,000 of them were in theater, and not 400,000 or more as many wanted. Such a small force would be unable to control the country, and ananrchy would result.

Their worst fears seemed justified by the outbreak of looting in Baghdad, and later by the mass movement of terrorists across the border. But the looting could have easily been stopped had the local commander not been a slack-jawed overspecialized trees-before-the-forest type and appreciated how important civil order was in Iraq, and imposed martial law with summary executions of looters. And even a much larger force would have found it difficult indeed to police Iraq's huge, arbitrary border, though they would have had at least some additional impact.

More serious was the growth of no-go enclaves like Fallujah and (previously) Samarra. Here it is entirely possible that more troops would have allowed the commanders to deal with these cities sooner. That said, if 20,000 troops would have made a difference, 200,000 troops would have been overkill.

But what is lost in the debate is that any additional mobilization of forces on the Iraqi frontier would have posponed the beginning of the war by months at least. We know now that we are racing against the Iranians to see if we can turn over Iraq to the ING and free up our own forces before they build nukes; any delay would have been deadly. (On that note, we should fire or shoot the State Department idiots who opposed de-Ba'athification and the rebuilding of the ING. They lost us at least three crucial months.)

As well, a larger war effort would have been much more expensive. In the election, it would have made a huge difference if the war had cost $300 billion and not $100 billion so far (for example). It would have also made our stance against North Korea seem suspect and in danger of overreach.

Now, Iraqi units are coming online in great numbers. The terror groups are slowly being contained, civil order is largely restored, U.S. forces are freed up to go on the offensive, Samarra just kicked out the terrorists that had been based there, and things are looking favorable in general. Factoring in all the issues, I believe that Rumsfeld was justified in his decision.


Post-Rosh Hashanah thoughts

This year, Rosh Hashanah ran into Friday night/Saturday, which made it a three day holiday for all intents and purposes. There is nothing more pleasing to my senses as that delicate aroma of several hundred male college students who haven't washed for three days packed in a close space. Ahh, true bliss!

In all seriousness, the next week is part of the Ten Days of Repentence, when we are called upon to examine our deeds and resolve to improve them. The principle of self-examination is a good one whether you are a Jew or not, as nobody is perfect. Most people (I hope) do not have problems with things like theft, abuse of others or other things of that nature; but one issue that many, many people (myself among them) get tripped up by is "Lashon Hara," evil speech, variously translated as gossip or slander. It really is neither, but is closer to gossip.

Evil speech is when you should speak badly about a person when there is no specific need to do so. Exact definitions I will leave to the many great scholars who have written on the subject, but the snide comment behind someone's back, the casual tale-bearing of juicy gossip, the subtle undermining of trust with a well-placed remark, all are considered evil speech.

This is one of the easiest and yet most destructive transgressions to commit. Social discord, ruined reputations, simmering enmity, humiliation, estrangement, all these come from the uncontrolled use of speech. As you examine your deeds and look for ways to improve, do not neglect the seemingly minor hurts you do to others with speech. May you have much success in making yourself a better and kinder person, and may the next year be sweet and good for all of Creation.

Moving on… thinking about my last post, it seemed as though I were endorsing immoral behavior in the interest of perpetuating American power. I think that needs to be clarified. Rather, certain classes of behavior which would seem immoral (spying, economic and military coercion, war if need be) can be legitimate tools for a state; but it all depends on context. For example, I believe the Iraq War to have been justified; but a war on Turkey would not be. But the history of U.S. policy in the last decades has convinced me that U.S. support for dictatorships can never be moral (unless the alternative is pure anarchy). We are now reaping the bitter fruit of our support for the Shah of Iran, the House of Saud, and the Egyptian pseudo-parliamentary dictatorship, just as we did from our support for a dictator in Vietnam and China prior to the Communist takeovers (though that was more complicated). Sometimes the needs of the hour would seem to force us to support a dictator, but we must know that such support will never be without great cost down the line.

I did a lot of reading over the holiday, and though it's starting to blend together it was interesting. The main practical conclusion I came to is that we need to get our forces out of Europe as fast as we can without leaving a power vaccum, so that the Europeans will be forced to defend themselves. Their absurd neo-Socialist statist systems are possible because they don't have to pay for decent armies. If they have to raise armies, two things could happen depending on whether they have the guts to cut back their social programs to pay for it. If they do, their societies will benefit from the increased commerce and free-market activity. If they have become so infested with Socialism that they try to support both an army and their welfare states at the same time, they will a horrible death as did the Soviet Union before them. Seems like a win-win situation to me…

Have fun, buy silver, and good night.


Thoughts on the national interest

The last few days in my Political Science classes have been focused on power politics and ideas of the national interest. In summary, the Realists such as Morgenthau believe that the only thing which is in any country's national interest is the pursuit of power, which is inherently a zero-sum transaction given that if you have a finite power potential, one country's gain implies another country's loss. The ideal situation in politics is the presence of a balance of power between nations that forestalls war.

This is not necessarily an amoral position. Morgenthau escaped from Nazi Germany, and he believed that the failure of the European nations to contain Hitler was directly related to their unwillingness to put power politics before all other considerations. Furthermore, the international norms of behavior (such as they are in a Realist world) are dictated by the most powerful countries. Ergo, a Realist governed by moral concerns (it sounds contradictory, I know, but it isn't) could argue that the most moral countries have a moral imperative to behave immorally if necessary to extend their power! If they do not do so, they will fall to less moral challengers, with harmful consequenses for the people of the world. Thus, policies driven by explicit concerns of morality only divert strength from the important needs of power politics, ensuring disaster.

On the other side are the idealists, who believe that strong nations have the moral responsibility to promote morals with their power. How can we stand aside in Rwanda, for example, by saying that it is not in our national interest? According to the idealists, it is in the national interest of all nations to promote a more stable and just international system, even if a nation must take a short-term hit in the process.

Complicating things is the fact that the changing world has rendered large parts of the classic Realist position obsolete. With the advent of large-scale terrorism and similar dangers, maintaining the balance of power is not enough to ensure peace. State-sponsored terrorism in particular creates a large bias towards regime-change in the absence of more traditional power-political concerns. Furthermore, power has ceased to be a zero-sum game in many respects, particularly in the areas of trade and knowledge, thus removing many of the classic objections to some policies based on cooperation. As well, we should consider Dr. Matthews' 1989 argument that I mentioned earlier, that many of the pressing challenges we face today can only be dealt with on a regional level, and not by individual states.

America is in the unusual position of being so powerful that she can ensure her own security with vast resources to spare. I believe that this is a key factor. Our first responsibility should be to retain our position as hegemon of the world, for several reasons alluded to above; but we must also use the rest of our strength to advance democracy, capitalism and the welfare of mankind. This is particularly true since we have means at our disposal that increase our power as opposed to decreasing it, such as free trade. But it is even true if we should need to sacrifice some of our power for the good of others, because we have so very much to spare. We should of course be vigilant not to get carried away, as happened after World War I, and keep our main focus on power politics. But I believe that God will eventually reward those who act kindly and justly with others, all else being equal. The national interest is broad enough to include the cause of freedom.


Back from Boston

I attended a conference held by the Hartford Group in Boston on Friday, which had a number of fascinating parts to it. The part that is probably most relevant to this site was the presentation by their chief geopolitical analyst, Dr. Quincy Krosby. Here are the key points:

1. We can expect sizeable inflation for the next few years at least. Fed analysts estimate that a "neutral" interest rate (i.e. a rate that is neither accomodative nor restrictive for the credit markets) would presently be between 3.5%-4%. We are now below 2%, and until recently had been at 1% for a very long time. It will take over a year to raise the rates back to a normal level. Even when that happens, it takes about a year for the effects to ripple though the economy.

Why haven't we seen much inflation before now? The China Effect. China and India both exported deflation in the form of cheap goods and low wages, but their economies are both getting built up to the point where they will become relatively more expensive. On the flip side, the roaring economies of China and India are consuming a huge amount of natural resources, particularly oil, driving up prices for these. Which brings us to the next point:

2. Oil will stay pricey from now on, and could get worse depending on geopolitical factors. Global demand is rising dramatically, and production is beginning to level off. Worse, a lot of production is in unstable countries like Nigeria, Venezuela, and especially Saudi Arabia, which is inching closer and closer to a violent overthrow by the Islamist factions such as al-Qa'ida. (Editorial comment: start looking into solar power and better home insulation, etc.)

3. The market is scared stiff of a Kerry victory, because they know that he will wreck the economy. But whoever ends up winning, once the elections are over the traders will return to business as usual because the uncertainty will have disappeared. It's looking like the stock market should have a good year, especially solid large-caps. (Note: I am not dispensing investing advice, investing is risky, standard label warnings, and so forth. Caveat Emptor!)

That's enough for tonight. Much going on in the world that I don't have time to touch.


Interesting doings

Absolutely delicious. Kerry had a photo-op over the weekend at a gun club, and took several pictures with a shotgun which would have been illegal if legislation he co-sponsored, S. 1431 in 2003, had become law. The Drudge Report has the story now. (By the way, Kerry wasn't wearing eye and ear protection, which makes it highly unlikely that he actually fired the shotgun.)

I'm off to Boston in two days for a conference by the Hartford Group. Should be interesting, even if it messes up my schedule. I'll see if I can blog it.

I finally got fed up with the Google ads and removed them. (Take that, geodesic domes!!) Now I have a recommended reading section, which I have complete control over. I'll be swapping out entries periodically.

Blogger has been having some technical difficulties in the past few days. I hope things even out, or I may end up switching hosts.

I'll have to start blogging less frquently, since I just sold my soul to the devil. Actually I signed up for the YCDS play again this semester, despite my firm commitment not to. But, they're doing "The Boiler Room," and there's a part that Doc picked out just for me, and I'm as helpless as a crack-addict. On the bright side, it really helps me focus on my homework. Hehe.

Good night all!


Spending too much time browsing other blogs...

This letter excerpt, from Timothy Roscoe Carter to Matt Welch at mattwelch.com (linked to from janegalt.net) and dated November 6 2001, efficiently lays out how the Left has prevented itself as a matter of doctrine from doing a single thing about evil states:

"Credibility problems of the Left:
I. Everything the US does is wrong. In a previous column, you asked: What should we do about a repressive regime?

Option 1) Military Aid. Obviously wrong. We are providing the weapons that kill the innocent. See Israel, Turkey, Columbia, Reagan-era Iraq, etc.

Option 2) Economic Aid. Wrong. We are financially propping up the regime. See Egypt, Indonesia, etc.

Option 3) Humanitarian Aid. Still Wrong. By relieving the regime of its financial duty to feed its people, we free up their money for military uses. See Afghanistan, where the US supported the Taliban by providing $43 million in humanitarian aid in exchange for the Taliban not exporting Heroin, thus sacrificing 12 million women to the alter of the failed War on Drugs.

Option 4) Trade / Constructive Engagement. Wrong. This is merely an excuse for US corporations to profit off of the regime's repression of its own people. See China and Reagan-era South Africa.

Option 5) Economic Sanctions. Wrong. The economic sanctions in Iraq have killed 6,000 people a month for the past 11 years, or nearly 800,000 victims of US foreign policy.

Option 6) Military Attack. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! See every military conflict that the United States has every engaged in. (Caveat: There may be a possible exception for the US Civil War, which will be considered obviously justified if you are talking to any white person born in the former Confederacy.)

Option 7) The Prime Directive. Wrong. It is intolerable for the most powerful nation in history to sit by and do nothing while thousands die. It probably stems from a racist lack of concern for people of color of persons of other religions. See Rwanda, Bosnia (not to be confused with Kosovo, which falls under Option 6, above)."

Not much to add to that. In all the years since Iraq invaded Kuwait, I had not heard a single good Leftist solution for the Saddam problem, other than throwing up our hands and letting him do what he wanted without interference.


Firefox is a no-go...

Darn. I tried installing Mozilla Firefox so that I could interface better with my blog editor, but it went very weird on me very quickly. Never mind then. (I suppose I could just post from the library, but that would be a real pain. But how can you have a blog without lots of links? Decisions, decisions...)

Talk about your convention bounces! It looks like President Bush now has a ten-point lead over the junior senator from Massachusetts. Looking around the blogosphere, it looks like the Democrats are getting freaked out by the eerie similarities with the Dukakis campaign. Their thinking is that they've been too nice until now, and they need to get mudslinging with a vengeance.

Riiiight. And this is supposed to attract voters HOW? I think anyone who would be suckered by this approach probably already has been, in the three years since 9/11 during which every Socialist hack has been comparing Bush to Hitler. You can't really improve on that (if "improve" is the word I'm looking for). My guess is that the rest of the campaign-season is going to look like a train-wreck in slow motion.

And now, a Gee Whiz Moment™:

The blogosphere (the pseudo-organic network of blogs on the internet) is absolutely the best thing that has happened for democracy since the Xerox machine took down the Soviet Union. In days past, an event would happen and the major news networks would have their editors sit down behind closed doors, eat a few donuts, and decide how they wanted to spin the story. Sometimes, all the networks would sit on a story for months before mentioning it, if they ever did, because the story threatened their interests. Those stories that were publicized were massaged, torqued, blurred, impacted, digested and otherwise messed over to fit with the editorial agendas in play.

And then came the blogs, personified by the Drudge Report and the breaking of the Monica Lewinski story.

Matt Drudge saw that the networks were sitting on this story for over a month, and clearly had no intention of breaking it. So Drudge, working out of his apartment on a personal computer and a standard internet hookup, fired the shot heard 'round the Net and blew that thing sky-high. The world would never be the same.

Now, an event happens. Before the big networks have even closed the office door for their meeting of donut-eaters, a first-hand witness either does a writeup in his blog, or calls a blogger he knows who does the writeup instead. (Usually multiply this first step by ten or so.) Then "Vodkapundit" might be cruising around and notice the story, and whip up a few links to it from his own site. "Cold Fury" might pick it up from Vodkapundit, "Heartless Libertarian" could pick it up from Cold Fury, and then Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit notices and links back to the original site. (Next thought by the original blogger: "Holy @$%*, look at the traffic-counter! I musta been instalaunched!" Followed by celebratory alcohols or whatever.) Pretty soon the entire blogosphere is humming, with cross-references to seven different news-feeds, audio-content from primary sources, detailed analyses of the different media-spins on the story, and general scorn at the hacks over at the Associated Press.

The marketplace of ideas just got hooked up to a rocket-engine. Never again will the Old Media have the power that they wielded as recently as last election. The little guy now has all the multitudes of the blogosphere on his side. It really is amazing, and only good things can result.


Editorial Policies are a Pain

I just wrote a post on *certain events going on in Russia having to do with the disruption of education* and apparently Google has a policy of enforcing a blackout on posts about tragic events for an indeterminate period. Probably a good idea, since my post was rather vengeful. I'll try to be a little more vague this time.

I think that those who did this made a huge mistake. Russia is not exactly known for their "nuanced," "sensitive" responses toward these kinds of things. I would not be surprised if their attitude toward Israel makes a dramatic turnaround as well. This may well turn out to be a crucial turning point in "al-Harb ila irhaab" (synonym: campaign on fear).

I need to do something about Google's choice of content for the sidebar. At the moment, they seem to think that this is a Eco-freak site, and are assigning content accordingly. How can I tell them that I like the Jewish religion, policy analysis and electoral politics, Israel, military strategy, fiction and literature, music, animals, Israel, the Libertarian Party, the Boy Scouts of America, individual responsibility, investing and financial management, education, politics, and Ralph Vaughn Williams?

Oh yeah ;-) Let's see if that helps.

The massacre of Beslan

The latest news from Beslan in Russia is that over three hundred hostages were killed, over half of whom were children. I lack the words to truly express my horror and pain for the dead, and my rage at and revulsion for the murderers who did this. But I'll take a stab at it anyway:

These cannibals have shown themselves to be outcast from the human race. When al-Qa'ida said that they reserved the right to kill two million children, the naive among us considered it hyperbole; after all, who would be so barbaric as to deliberately kill children? Now we know, beyond the capacity of even the most delusional pacifist to explain away. Anyone who conducts such acts has lost the right to continue breathing, and it is the duty of all inhabitants of the earth to purify this world by eradicating these scum from it. Furthermore, anyone who IN ANY WAY gives aid and comfort to these spawn of Murder Incarnate is just as guilty as one who knowingly assists in the spread of the Black Death. There can be no quarter given. There can be no "nuance," no "sensitivity," no institutional procrastination, no waiting on the sufferance of the United Nations which has shown itself unworthy of the very color of its flag. (Blue is the color of exaltedness, not of nepotism, corruption, indifference to savagery and bloodshed, and obstruction of those who wish to defend human life.)

To those who wish for peace and justice, the hand of friendship. To those who wish for murder and rule by violence, the sword of annihilation. There can be no other way.

(Deep breath now...)


Whither Africa?

I was reading an essay by Jessica Tuchman Matthews from 1989 called "Redefining Security" which was assigned in one of my classes, in which she argued that enviromental issues such as soil erosion, deforestation, overpopulation, pollution and the like needed to be considered part of the national interest, and required nations to respond multilaterally and regionally to be effective.

The bright side is that many of the gloomier predictions have proven to be overstated. This is due in no small part to the recent influence of the enviromentalist movement, to be sure, but Matthews and others expected the major gains to be government mandated. It seems to me that most actual progress has come from social activism on the one hand, and the response of the free market on the other. Government efforts appear to be counterproductive in many cases, and on the whole have negligible effects. California offers a tax-credit for installing solar-power systems in your home of 50% of its cost; yet I can't think of anywhere in the state where I have seen a solar home, because the technology is not ready yet. Meanwhile, better insulation and other techniques which are widely available today could save a great deal of energy, but the government barely notices them. Not trendy enough, I suppose.

Back on topic... one area which worried Matthews greatly was Africa, because it combined rapid population growth, terrible resource-management and agriculture, rapid resource depletion as a result, and unstable societies. Africa has proven to be as bad as everyone feared (with a few twists). Efforts to feed starving populations and husband resources have often been disrupted by wars, corrupt governments, and other such fun things, so it seems that there is little that the developed world can do about it.

The twist is AIDS. At the moment AIDS is having its biggest effects in sub-Saharan Africa, though that may change in twenty years or so. Regardless, at the same time as the northern African states are becoming heavily populated and poor, the southern states, rich in mineral wealth and soil, are seeing a third of their population die off. I would guess that pretty soon now, we are going to see a series of horrific wars in Africa as the big states try to absorb the empty ones, and help the process along by emptying the native population early (read wholesale massacres by machete-swinging mobs). They've already started doing it to minority populations within their own borders, and it won't take long before some Sudanese general (for example) looks south and sees the chance for a land-grab.

Things may get very ugly, very quickly.

My writing classes look very cool. My polisci classes are going to be awesome. Much blogable material!


Reading the 9/11 Report

I'm a short ways into the 9/11 Report, and so far it has been quite interesting. A couple of points:

1. God bless the men and women on Flight 93! It is important for every American (and everyone else in the world, for that matter) to realize that submitting to the demands of terrorists in this day and age will probably not save your life. Look at how many hostages in Iraq have been executed, versus the tiny number who were freed. On the other hand, if you resist with all the violence available to you, you may save not only your own life but the lives of others as well. Even if you die, you will at least die on your feet and not on your knees.

If I should ever run into terrorists, I am already dead; it only remains to me to take a few of them with me, if I can.

2. The report mentions that the military, in their testimony, was so concerned with disguising the massive foul-ups in communication that went on, that they claimed to know about the hijackings before they even happened! For example, pg. 34: "...NORAD officials stated that at 9:16, NEADS received hijack notification of United 93 from the FAA. This statement was incorrect. There was no hijack to report at 9:16. United 93 was proceeding normally at that time."

I have serious problems with an organization that is more interested in covering their backside than in trying to fix problems so that they can do their job. Never mind that they were testifying under oath. The military hierarchy has issues with their priorities, and the culture over there really needs to be shaken up. I just hope that they can do it before their idiocy kills more people. For example, the XM-8 rifle needs to be chambered in something bigger than the 5.56 mm NATO "poodleshooter" round, but enough people are invested in maintaining the status quo so that it will be very tough to get changes going.

My first class in "Security Studies: Strategy" starts in a half hour. Should be fun.


Outside the Convention

So I go to get the materials I'm supposed to be passing out at the RNC, only to find that somebody did not bother coordinating this with the hotel where the stuff is. They want faxed authorizations, etc. etc. So basically I'm out four bucks and three hours. Eh...

I have never seen so many cops in my life, and I was in Israel during the worst of the terror attacks 2001-02. The NYPD was definitely in full riot-control mode. They must have been kept pretty busy; I didn't see any violence where I was, but every minute or two a police van came flying by, sirens blasting, so there must have been something going on.

The M.O. of the protesters was interesting. They had a few guys at a particular street corner I passed, just keeping it warm; then a few minutes later, a ton of them showed up out of nowhere and started bringing down the house. Then, in a few minutes, they all dispersed again. I can only speculate that they were trying to keep the cops off-balance. The cops were tense as hell. I understand completely; I've been at a few protests, but the mood here was the most volatile I've seen, a sort of seething anger. Things weren't even that bad at U. of Michigan when we faced down a Palestinian protest at their "Divestment Conference," and some of those protesters were genuine terrorists!

But from what I heard talking to other guys, tonight was relatively tame. It did not seem like there were too many protesters, maybe a few thousand. On the subway back to campus I found a flyer for the "International Socialist Organization," decrying Kerry's unwillingness to advocate their utopia. I couldn't help but smile. Does this make Kerry a S.I.N.O.?


Back on campus, more spy stuff, etc.

I arrived at school yesterday evening and settled in. It was surprisingly painless, for which I commend the staff. I also talked to a few of my friends; one of them spent the summer interning in Washington with a consulting firm, and had some verrry interesting things to say about it:

First off, he worked a lot with AIPAC people, and has a low opinion of them generally. He doubts that any of them would have the intelligence to run a spy network for Israel, aside from the fact that AIPAC really dislikes the present government. The average AIPAC staffer is young, liberal, and disconnected from the real world. Not my first choice for a Mossad agent.

That would fit the asessment provided by Honest Reporting on the whole issue. It's sounding fishier and fishier the more I hear about it.

The other thing my friend mentioned was that in his work for the consulting firm, he got to attend a number of committee hearings in Congress, in particular one dealing with Israel's planned disengagement from Gaza. (I'm having trouble finding it on Google.) His take was that the congressmen generally read prepared statements written by their staffers, and then embarrass themselves asking questions to the experts giving testimony. Former envoy Dennis Ross had just given his recommendation on what the U.S. should do (basically, get out of the way), and the minority leader asked him whether his view is restricted by his own perceptions of the subject.

Let's think about this for a moment... Dennis Ross, who for nearly a decade was negotiating with Arafat almost constantly, now says to cut him loose, and some blowhard thinks he knows the Palestinian Authority better than Ross does. Sure thing, bub.

The Democrats are complaining that the U.S. isn't getting involved in the process, that we should be pushing for human rights, democracy, etc. in Gaza. Almost every expert who testified said: the Egyptians are already doing a great job. Do not come in and mess everything up! Right now there are no negotiations because there is nobody to negotiate with. Arafat is on his way out, but nobody has managed to take control yet, so the PA is breaking down into anarchy.

I should be able to get more info when class starts and I see some more of my friends. A lot of them got work in key locations over the summer, so we'll see what they have to say.


Spying for AIPAC?

Oh, boy. Just what we needed. Someone leaked reports of a spying investigation on an analyst in the DOD who allegedly passed info on Iran to the American Israel Political Action Commitee, thence to the Israelis.

www.debka.com has an analysis on two possible reasons to leak this now. To summarize, either someone is doing a hatchet-job on the President, or the President is trying to show how he's not under anyone's control by trumpeting this as his idea. If the second reason is true, then somebody messed up big-time. The news services are already gleefully reporting on all the ways in which the Evil, Devious Israelis could have influenced U.S. policy on Iraq, and this is not going to end up being a plus for Bush in the elections.

A few thoughts. One, it looks like this was a case of Amatuer Night, rather than a professional intelligence operation. I doubt that a serious spook would have fed info to AIPAC, of all people, because it blows Israel's plausible deniability straight to heck, and damages an influential political organ.

Two, the same thing is true now as it was during the Jonathan Pollard case. Israel and the United States theoretically have a comprehensive information-sharing agreement. Either Israel already had the info they were given, or else the U.S. was holding out on the Israelis (which has been known to happen). Ergo, I don't really see the problem.

Three, the data in question concerns Iran. It seems obvious that if anyone is going to take action to destroy Iran's weapons program, it's going to be the Israelis, so we should be giving them all the help we've got! Heaven forbid that a U.S. ally is able to defeat the most serious threat to U.S. interests in the Middle-East...

I've got to pack now, my plane to New York leaves in the morning. Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to school we go!


Thinking things over

My father and I went to the bank today, and he remarked how surprising it was that a stable economy and the presence of money causes so much social tranquility. I asked him what he meant, and he noted how people here generally are not worried about living to see tomorrrow, they know how to get what they need, and things are much less uncertain than they are in, say, war zones.

I started thinking about this. On its most basic level, there are two reasons why the strong don't simply take what they need from the weak: enforcement of social norms by power structures like the police or armed citizens, or an understanding that theft and murder is harmful and evil. (Some would call this rational self-interest, but even granted that it is in people's interest to have a general atmosphere of respect for society, you could easily determine that a single mugging would provide a benefit to you that outweighs the slight community instability you would feel. Hence "rational self-interest" must include a moral component or break down in practice. This goes back to the tragedy of the commons, which I may talk about later sometime.) Some people, notably those in government, don't seem to appreciate how much society depends on morality, and not brute force, to keep the peace.

In my political science classes, we called this "social capital." Social capital is the accumulated trust in your communal institutions that lets you accept a check with the expectation that it can be turned into cash, or cross an intersection knowing that nobody on the cross street will run the red light.

Social capital is the first thing to go once the society goes to pieces. The orgy of looting that took place in Iraq in those first few days after Saddam fell, or the less serious reports of looting after hurricanes, demonstrate this quite well. And the police and military forces have a terrible time trying to suppress unrest, because even in great numbers they were still swamped by the looters.

Society can only have a thin layer of stability so long as people only do the right thing when everything goes well. A truly strong society needs citizens who will do the right thing, always, even if nobody is looking. For this reason, I worry when I hear about schools where the focus is on "affirming the child," not teaching about right and wrong. I worry about the prevalence of cheating at schools and colleges, including my own (which is shocking, given that it is a religious college). But, I suppose that civilization has always been like this. It just makes it all the more important for those of us who are moral to take the lead in sustaining the community. As it says in the Ethics of the Fathers, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man."

(NB: By "man" they mean "leader." It's an idiom from two thousand years ago. Don't start thinking I'm some sort of mysogynist because I don't like watering down the original language...)

I'm heading back to school in a few days. The Israel Club is calling for volunteers to pass out literature at the RNC, which should be fun. I'll post how things go.

I gotta switch browsers. I can't add weblinks in Safari. Oh, well. Looks like Mozilla Firefox as soon as I get back to the dorms.


First Post

I was browsing down a list of blogs tonight, and it occurred to me that I might want to start one myself. So here I am. I intend this to be a place where I can comment about politics, new trends, morality, and anything else that comes up. Thus endeth the introduction. Excelsior!!

It seems that Muqtada As-Sadr is having to finally move out of the Imam Ali mosque. He's been saying that he would for at least two weeks now, but he's running out of options now that Ayatollah Sistani finally got out of the hospital. It's hard to claim that you represent all of Shiadom when the real thing is knocking on the door with a mob of thousands of people. It will be interesting to see if Sadr manages to stall for much longer. He definitely doesn't want to stand down, though how he thinks he can overthrow the government is beyond me. He had his chance in April and blew it; taking over the mosque was a strategy born of desperation. If he doesn't face up to reality, he will remain very dangerous. Too bad that the government is giving him a pass on this one; Sadr needs to be in prison or dead, because it's only a matter of time before he starts up with the government again.

Interesting how John McCain is coming out against the 527 groups, given that he pushed the legislation that created them in the first place. I'm not calling him a hypocrite; he probably never considered that this could happen. But I'll bet some of the corporate-types who supported the bill did... It just goes to show that you have to be careful when writing laws to make sure that they don't cause the opposite effect to what you wanted.

In fact, I think I'll stop to point out what will now become the First Law of Mastiffdom: Beware the Law of Unintended Consequenses, Particularly When You Use the Power of Government!

All that campaign finance "reform" accomplished was to shift the big money away from the DNC and RNC, who could at least be trusted to have some standards, and into a horde of 527's with no accountability, no transparency, and in many cases no class either. How lovely.

I think that will wrap it up for tonight.