Saturday, March 15, 2003

WAR: I expect to wake up tomorrow morning and see headlines announcing that we've started our air campaign in Iraq. Baghdad is 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles, so by 7am here it will be dusk there, and just about time to launch our Tomahawks. It might all be over by the time I go to lunch (with Saddam killed in a coup, or in the initial bombardment). The first Gulf War was arguably the most successful military operation in history, and our rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan topped it. It never pays to be overly optimistic, but from my position as a spectator I feel safe in predicting that Gulf War II will go over even faster, and more safely.

There is one scenario I dread though, and that's the possibility that we don't cut off Saddam's communications to his forces quickly enough and he has time and opportunity to use checmical weapons against his own people. Our forces (and his) have fairily adequate defenses against the rudimentary chemical and biological weapons that are likely to be used, but the Iraqi civilians don't have any means of protection. It seems likely that Saddam will order attacks against the Kurds in the north, and it's also possible that he will order a suicidal chemical holocaust in Baghdad itself, once he's convinced that he's going down.

God bless the United States of America, and deliver the people of Iraq.
AWANA OLYMPICS: I just got home from taking my kids to the Awana Olympics. Not actually my kids, you understand, but my kids nonetheless. I'd post a link to a website about Awana and/or the Olympics, but all the websites I see are a little cheesy. If you know what it is, then great; if not, you'll get the idea as I explain. We took 32 kids from church (16 boys and 16 girls, 3rd through 6th grade), and they competed against teams from other churches in some fun indoor games. It's pouring rain today, so it's good we were inside. Our boys team came in third on their circle, and our girls came in second -- neither good enough to advance to the finals. The kids had a good time though, and my friends and I had fun watching them.

I love being around kids. Five years ago (or even three) there weren't a lot of kids at my church, but recently there has been a huge influx of young parents and kids from the neighborhood and it's made quite a difference in the atmosphere. There have been a half-dozen new babies born in the last year alone. It's amazing to me. Having children around adds a sense of life and a feeling of vibrancy to the church and our events, and it's hard for me to imagine how dry and dusty things would feel without them.

Sometimes they won't be quiet, sometimes they run around like maniacs or cry or pout or scream, but sometimes one will just smile at me and it makes me forget the dozen times I had to tell her to stop poking me in the head with her umbrella. Two of the little girls couldn't stop giggling over how fast the windshield wipers were swooshing while we were driving on the freeway. When the rain let up a little and we turned the wipers down, it was equally hilarious that they were now moving so ssssssloooowwwwly. It doesn't make any sense to me, but hearing them laugh and laugh over such a small thing makes me thankful for the rain.
ADVANCE 12 PACES, TURN, AND FIRE!: I am looking forward to learning more about the theory that Michael introduced in MORIA REVISITED, but before he elaborates, I would like to raise a specific point for future clarification. In his earlier post, Michael provided a general sense of what he understands as civilization and interconnectedness, but he refers to a third, spectral concept that remains in need of illumination: advancement.

The notion of societal advancement can be a powerful motivator and justifier of political values and strategies, including such diverse and questionable values and strategies as the encouragement of technological research and development, education, freedom, globalization, war, free trade, economic sanctions, censorship, human rights, ethnic violence, and racial purity. But unless civilization advancement is described in a concrete way, critical minds cannot evaluate the truth or legitimacy of the claim that it motivates, justifies, or is logically related to any particular policy or value.

Furthermore, advancement implies movement as well as the existence of both positive and negative directions. Without the additional notions of positive and negative directions, we could claim advancement and yet still be treading in circles.

Society quite literally is always moving, and the question is: how do we know when we are moving in a positive direction and when we are moving in a negative direction? What is our point of reference? Is there some goal we have in sight, which we might one day reach? What if ours is the plight of the duelist, who advances just as far as he must before turning back, drawing his weapon, and meeting his fate? Then the question of whether we are moving in a positive or negative direction can only be answered after it is too late for such knowledge to influence our behavior. How do we recognize advancement as it happens, rather than merely after the fact, and how do we balance advancement in one aspect of civilization with retreat in another? Or do all aspects of civilization advance together, in unison? None of these questions can possibly be answered without a concrete account of the notion of civilization advancement.

I do not doubt that Michael has a well-developed sense of civilization advancement, and my only real point is that it will be critically important for him to include in the elaboration of his theory a solid, grounded description of this rich and forceful concept.

Friday, March 14, 2003

MORIA REVISITED: One of my little pet theories is that civilization (however you define it) advances at a rate proportional to the interconnectedness of humanity. I generally take "civilization" to include things like health, technology, art, engineering achievements, and that sort of thing. "Interconnectedness" is a little more abstract; in my mind, it increases due to technological inventions like spoken language, written language, the telephone, satellite communications, and the internet. These innovations serve to increase what I call the functional population density -- that is, the more functionally dense a society is, the more interconnected it is, and the faster its civilization will advance. SDB has a neat essay on the four most important inventions in history, and I generally agree with his analysis, since it fits so neatly into my own theory. (I'll explain my theory in more detail in a later post.)

Of course, if functional density is good, why, actual density must be even better! Check out this Wired article and read about the future of civilization!

By expanding our cities underground, we will be able to reach population densities unheard of throughout history. Functional density increase due to increased population density creates some difficulties that technological advancement does not (such as crime, waste disposal, heat (you've got to have huge air conditioners for cities a mile below ground), dealing with natural disasters), but I believe that they can all be overcome. Inevitably, there is some equilibrium point where the benefits to civilization and the costs of maintaining a given population density balance out, but we certainly haven't reached that point yet with our current population density-increasing technology of choice: skyscrapers. Major cities continue to drain people from rural areas, and even the largest and most dense cities are still growing (see here).

Now, as to Los Angeles... I don't know how safe it would be to dig here, considering that we can't even build a subway without plowing into tar and natural gas. Oh, and earthquakes. Better than Balrogs, I suppose.
"Our character is not so much the product of race and heredity as of those circumstances by which nature forms our habits, by which we are nurtured and live."
-Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.), Roman orator, philosopher, statesman. De Lege Agraria, II, 95.

Granted, Cicero did not have the understanding of genetics that we have today. Nevertheless, his is an important perspective to keep in mind. Some culturally or historically derived behavioral traits that are particularly strongly represented among black women or among Asian men may become diluted over the generations, in the U.S.
ABOUT NICHOLAS WILLIAMS: I am a junior at Stanford University, working on an undergraduate degree in the interdisciplinary major field of Symbolic Systems, with a concentration on decision-making systems and rationality. I will also graduate with a minor in International Relations (IR), assuming that I do in fact graduate, and the list of University departments that contribute to the IR program paints a pretty picture of my intellectual passions: political science, history, economics, philosophy. I speak a wee-bit o' Japanese, and will spend five of the next six months studying and working (and writing) in Kyoto, Japan. I currently work in the Philosophy Department library at Stanford, and I have 22 books checked out in my name, none of which are for class.

I really do enjoy long walks, though not usually on the beach- too much... beach. I paint (poorly), whittle (often my own fingers), and have a great affinity for the Buddhist mental culture in it's most simple form. And there is no secret cabal. The secret cabal exists only in your mind.
INTERRACIAL MARRIAGES: A fascinating UPI story gives a bunch of statistics about interracial marriages from the 2000 US Census. The two biggest pieces of news are:

  • African-American men had white wives 2.65 times more often than black women had white husbands. In other words, in 73 percent of black-white couples, the husband was black. For every 1,000 black women who were married, there were 1,059 black married men.
  • Asian women had white husbands 3.08 times more often than Asian men had white wives. That means just over 75 percent of white-Asian couples featured a white husband and Asian wife. For every 1,000 Asian women with husbands, only 860 Asian men had wives.

    The article goes on to discuss other statistics, but it never addresses the long term effects that these disparities will have on the US population. The overall racial (and mixed-racial) breakdown of the population won't be affected much, but any traits that are particularly strongly represented among black women or among Asian men will become diluted over the generations.

    Via Andrew Sullivan.
  • A NEW ADDICTION: Ha! The secret to success in writing really IS volume- but the readers aren't supposed to know that! Write as much as possible, then edit out everything that isn't brilliant, penetrating, devastating to your opponents, and enchanting to your audience. It is a thrilling, absorbing, and endless challenge.

    Truly, I am honored to be given a voice in this forum.
    A NEW ADDITION: Everyone knows the secret to success at writing is simple: content. No, not the quality of the content, silly. I'm talking about volume. So to ensure that this blog is as successful as possible, I've invited my esteemed brother Nicholas to be my co-writer. He's a smart guy, an excellent writer, and approaches life from a different direction than I do. I've asked him to write about whatever he wants, thereby ensuring that the volume of writing will be at least somewhat higher than it would have been without him! Excellent.

    In addition, I expect the quality will be higher as well, but that's just a bonus.
    ABOUT MICHAEL WILLIAMS: I'm a UCLA grad student who is ever-so-close to finishing a PhD in computer science (ask Zeno); my major field is artificial intelligence and I have minors in psychology and algorithms. I enjoy international politics, law, history, all sorts of gaming, and long walks on the beach. I'm a Christian who wasn't born into it but chose it voluntarily. I am currently working at an aerospace company in El Segundo, California (who knows how long that will last?), and I design and build satellites for the government. Don't tell anyone.

    I have a dedicated library in my house and I make good use of it. I also like to run and lift weights, and I invented the polystyrene packing peanut. I enjoy Asimov, Dostoyevsky, Robert Jordan, and everyone in between. I like to write, and this whole blog is basically just a giant attempt to improve my skill; I also write mediocre fiction when the mood strikes me.

    Email me at phead(A-T)ucla(D-O-T)edu.

    Additionally, there is no secret cabal.

    Geesh, this is cheesy. I hate writing about myself.
    The post below is a little After Action Report I wrote on March 5th, the day of the large anti-war protests at UCLA. I originally sent this to the man who inspired me to blog and he generously posted it on his site. I reproduce it here because it's something I enjoyed doing, and something that used up at least a few of my 15 minutes of fame. I got a nifty AP photo out of it, and even got mentioned on Instapundit.
    So I went to the anti-war protest at UCLA today [March 5th, 2003]; this was my first demonstration and I didn't know quite what to expect. I made up a few pro-war signs and handed them out to some like-minded students to hold up with me. I was surprised somewhat, because it wasn't at all hard to find people willing to hold up the pro-war signs (as I thought it might be). I had:

    1. "Saddam is Mean"
    2. "Give War A Chance!"
    3. "Peace Through Victory!"
    4. "Anti-War = Pro-Murder, Pro-Torture, Pro-Rape"

    We also made "Beat it Hippies", which got a pretty good reaction.

    I had the opportunity to run up on the stage and hold sign #4 up behind the speaker for about a minute before people started boo-ing and security pulled me off stage. They tried to take my sign too, but I wouldn't let them. Then about half an hour later three other guys and I got back up on the stage (near the back) and wouldn't let their security take us down. They called the police over but I guess the cops decided we weren't doing anything illegal and so they didn't do anything. It was pretty amusing. At that point I got bored and left.

    I think sign #4 got the strongest reaction from people, as you can imagine. Several anti-war people got angry, but when I explained to them how the sign was accurate they shut up and walked off. Around a dozen groups and individuals thanked me for being out there, including a lady in a wheelchair who really liked the sign and some construction workers who seemed to hold most of the students in general contempt.

    Most of the people there seemed to really dislike Bush for some reason. Some girl tried to convince me that, although Saddam does murder, torture, and rape people, Bush does too. I couldn't quite pin her down on her sources, but she seemed very convinced. I can't substantiate these claims, but if they're true I think that the media should stop covering for Bush.

    Overall it was an interesting experience. In practical terms it was a waste of time, but entertaining nevertheless. I was interviewed by
    reporters from a few newspapers after I was dragged off the stage the first time, and several photographers took my picture, so if anyone sees me let me know. There were some TV and radio journalists there as well, but I didn't have a chance to talk to any of them. Good stuff.
    I've gotta say, I love Google's little graphical tributes to great thinkers. Today it's Einstein (it's his birthday), and a couple weeks ago I saw Michaelangelo (on his birthday). Of course, if you don't visit Google today, you won't get to see what I'm talking about.
    War within a week? That's SDB's analysis based on ship movements from the Mediterranean Sea into the Red Sea. As he says, the ships that have been moved through the Suez Canal will be needed for the initial massive airstrike against Iraq, and due to Turkey's waffling we can't be assured that they'll be able to launch their Tomahawks through Turkish air space. So the ships move south, but it can only be for a short time since those ships are parts of the two carrier battle groups that we have sailing around the Med., and it isn't healthy to leave carriers unscreened for long periods of time, especially with war pending.
    Hi everyone. First of all, my name is Michael Williams, not Jack. Secondly, yes, I can read your mind and anticipate all of your questions. Let me run through the rest of them real quick:

    What's all this then?

    This is my new blog. It's called Master of None because I don't really consider myself an expert on anything, but I do know a little bit about a great many things. Additionally, I'm vain enough to think that someone might care what I think. I also like to write, and I realized that I needed a vehicle that would facilitate this nasty habit; I read a lot of blogs (look to your left), and so I finally decided to bite the bullet and start my own.

    Jolly good old chap, what's the news then?

    Basically, instead of writing long and convoluted emails to my friends (as I have been known to do), I will begin writing long and convoluted posts to this here blog. That way, my friends can read my innane ramblings at their leisure, and avoid them with equal ease. The topics I tend to write about include, but are not limited to: religion, politics, technology and computers, movies, books.... But wait, there's more! If you order now, I'll also throw in periodic complaints about my day-to-day life, and pointless stories about things that happen to me!

    Cheerio my boy, have at it.

    Thanks, that's very generous of you kind sir.